In my younger days I played on a Slo-Pitch softball team at various local parks.
It was a lot of fun and a few times we won the league championship.
I was just average, but our pitcher, Dave Blackburn, was outstanding. He was known well beyond Southern California. In fact, he was known all over the world.
You see, Dave was the pitcher on the United States World Maccabiah Games Fast-Pitch team 6 times and was the winning pitcher on four championship teams. No athlete in any sport had competed as often in the event known as the Jewish Olympics held every four years in Israel.
The United States and Canada have dominated Maccabiah Games softball, which is Fast Pitch, and Mark Bendahan, Canada’s ace pitcher who has dueled Blackburn many times, calls his rival ‘dominating on the mound.”
Bendahan offered his tribute at the Pan-Am Maccabiah Games and Blackburn was touched to be so recognized by his prime opponent.
But in August of 2010 Blackburn, originally from a South suburb of Chicago but now a Santa Monica resident, was involved in an automobile accident that left him clinging to life. He and several friends were driving from Los Angeles to Prescott, Arizona for a softball tournament when their car was struck by another vehicle.
“He was in the front seat and he absorbed the brunt of it,” said Jay, one of Dave’s four brothers.
“He was in critical condition and heavily sedated. Two broken legs, a broken ankle, a fractured pelvis, nine fractured ribs, a hole in his colon that was torn, a hole in his lung which collapsed. In all, 27 broken bones.”
“I was unconscious for 54 days and bedridden for 117 days,’ recalls Blackburn. “ I had bizarre dreams and thought I’d been in a coma for years instead of months.
“When I came out of it I was disoriented and didn’t understand if I was dead or alive.
“While I was in the medically-induced coma my mother passed away. I kept wondering why she didn’t call. They didn’t tell me, fearing what that would do to me.”
Dave, who is 6-foot-3, 270 pounds and a lifelong athlete, began the battle to restore his life. In February, this year, he became a below the right knee amputee.
He has survived all that he’s been through. I know because I saw him recently. He was in a wheelchair and getting around all right. And, believe it or not, he hopes to pitch again.
“There are prosthetic legs now that make it possible,” he said. “It’s a long-term goal but I’ve been invited to the Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2013 to throw out the ceremonial first pitch and someday I may be back to pitch competitively in a game.
“I’m so happy to be alive.”
Blackburn’s father, Ernie, was a softball legend. He died in 1997 but Dave has fond memories of traveling to tournaments with his dad and brothers as a youth.
‘He taught me so much,” said Dave.
Ultimately, Dave became a legend in the sport just like his father. Dave has pitched 70 no-hitters and holds the Maccabiah Games record for career strikeouts.
From time to time I’m somewhere and an old friend will call my name. When it happened and I saw Dave I was never so happy to see anyone.