DOWNTOWN — Dave Blackburn, Santa Monica resident and a recent inductee to the International Softball Congress Hall of Fame, tells a “joke.”
“Every day for a month I had to look the grim reaper in the eyes and say I have a hall of fame to get to and you and not any one else is going to stop me,” Blackburn said.
Of course he adds, it’s not really a joke, but instead for Blackburn, it was his reality for 53 days while he lay in a medically-induced coma.
On Aug. 26 of last year, traveling with some of his teammates to Prescott, Ariz. for the 40-and-over ASA National Tournament, their vehicle was struck by another car and tore Blackburn apart.
Blackburn broke 27 bones, including his sternum and pitching arm, had two collapsed lungs, bruised his heart and tore critical nerves in his lower leg.
“I was touch or go living and dying … the trauma center in Phoenix told me that in 20 years no one had ever come to them that messed up and survived,” Blackburn said.
But he did.
Blackburn spent eight months recovering in Phoenix hospitals and nursing homes before returning to Santa Monica.
However, Blackburn, whose ability to walk was robbed from him by the accident, found himself in another hospital — Kaiser WLA — last Monday.
Blackburn had developed a foot infection and was advised by doctors not to attend the hall of fame induction ceremony in Moline, Ill. and instead undergo an operation.
The risk was huge — if the foot infection went untreated they would have to amputate his leg.
“I was taking a calculated risk, but I wasn’t going to miss [the induction ceremony] unless it was for my funeral,” Blackburn said.
In the same fashion as he stared down the grim reaper he staunchly told the doctors that he had family and friends and a hall of fame waiting for him. Blackburn signed a medical waiver on the condition that he return early to Los Angeles after the Aug. 14 ceremony.
Blackburn was operated on last Tuesday and the fate of his leg is still undetermined.
Blackburn attributes his strength as well as his love for softball to his father, softball legend Ernie Blackburn, who to a young Blackburn was “larger than life.”
“As far back as I can remember I remember weekends piling into the car with my brothers, mother and father for my father’s softball games,” Blackburn said.
Dave Blackburn, who in his career pitched 70 no hitters, just shy of his father’s 99, was inspired by his father’s success, but most of all he was awestruck by the opportunity that jumping into a car with his family allowed him. He was able to see all the Midwest and all of its elite softball players.
Blackburn left his hometown in Indiana and attended the University of Illinois in Champagne and in 1982 first stepped foot in Southern California as a recruit for the ISC defending world champs.
His team won the championship again and Blackburn, who had come to love California, stayed.
However, softball allowed Dave Blackburn to travel around the world from Venezuela to Canada to Israel where Blackburn won several gold medals in the World Maccabiah Games. The Jewish athletic event is held every four years and is much like the Olympics.
As a player, Dave Blackburn has pitched nearly 1,800 games over the last 33 consecutive summers, and has pitched in 10 International Maccabiah Tournaments.
Blackburn’s contributions to softball move just beyond those of a player. Blackburn was a pioneer in live streaming ISC tournaments on the Internet, starting with the championship game in 2005.
His recent induction and his two previous inductions into the Southern California Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and in the Israel Softball Hall of Fame in 2009, as the first American athlete, are due in part to his contributions toward creating a thriving international softball community.
Appropriately, his induction was streamed live and surrounded by friends and family Dave Blackburn took the podium for his speech.
Starring at the sky, he said, Dave Blackburn thought of his mother Charlotte who had died at age 78 while he was in the coma last summer.
He had missed her funeral and the chance, he said, to say goodbye.
“I told [my mother] in my speech that all her worries that softball didn’t pay the bills were for nothing because today I feel like the richest guy in the world,” he said.