BELLEVUE, Neb.: When Dave Toadvine arrived at a Kent State alumni reception Saturday before the Golden Flashes’ College World Series debut, a murmur went through the crowd.
Most KSU baseball supporters thought they would never see the 62-year-old retired truck driver from Springfield again. The grandfather and surrogate father of sophomore second baseman Derek Toadvine had been rushed to the hospital by ambulance after the Golden Flashes captured the regional championship June 3 in Gary, Ind.
“We thought we’d lost him right there,” Kent State coach Scott Stricklin said Sunday.
“I know Dave with a baseball hat and glasses on. He looked so bad I didn’t even recognize him.”
Already scheduled for angioplasty and warned to avoid stress, Dave Toadvine was making his way to the field from his seat as players and fans celebrated the 3-2 victory over Kentucky that sent KSU to its first NCAA super regional.
Then he felt a pain he still struggles to explain.
“It shot straight through my heart, like somebody had a knife they kept sticking in my chest,” he said. “I couldn’t breathe.”
Heather Toadvine heard someone yell for water, but had no idea it was for her father.
“The kids were jumping all over; parents were coming down,” she said. “I don’t know if all the anxiety and emotion took over. It was very crowded down there; it was hot.”
When the rescue squad arrived, Dave Toadvine said, he had to be carried up about 20 steps. He received oxygen, intravenous fluids, nitroglycerin and pain medication on the way to the hospital.
“When I got to the hospital, the pain started coming back,” he said. “Then the nitro kicked in.”
Derek went to the hospital as well. Amazingly, Dave Toadvine was released after a few hours. Derek was able to rejoin his teammates for their postgame celebration at a restaurant in Gary.
“It was kinda scary, but I’m still here,” Dave Toadvine said by phone Sunday.
Experience of a lifetime
To watch the grandson he introduced to the game of baseball, some might say Dave Toadvine is still flirting with death.
He needs surgery to have a stent inserted in his heart, but he pushed the date back until July 9 so he can be with Derek for the experience of a lifetime. Armed with his nitro prescription, he came to Omaha with his wife Dottie and daughter Heather, along with the parents of Derek’s girlfriend, who are doctors.
“No money would stop me from doing it,” Dave Toadvine said. “Just the thrill of it.”
He watched Saturday’s 8-1 loss to Arkansas at TD Ameritrade Park and, God willing, he will be in the stands tonight at 5 p.m. as the Golden Flashes (46-19) face elimination in a loser’s bracket game against top-seeded Florida (47-19).
“We’re all on the edge of our seats because he likes to wander around,” Heather Toadvine said by phone. “We say, ‘Don’t go far.’ ”
Derek said his grandfather is not defying doctor’s orders, but he would if it had come to that.
“Even if they did, he would still be here, regardless,” Derek said Sunday after practice at Bellevue East High School. “He’s stubborn. Who knows if we’ll be back here next year or the year after that? He would never miss something like this.”
Dave Toadvine has three grandchildren, but Derek was his first.
“Grandparents shouldn’t have favorites, but I’m definitely his favorite,” Derek said. “I’m like his pride and joy.
I’m the first person in my family to go to college. He’s super proud of me.”
Growing up with baseball
When Derek was 5, Dave Toadvine started taking Derek out in the backyard to play catch. Heather and Derek lived on Morgan Street, a few houses away from Dave and Dottie. Derek’s great-grandmother, Gladys Woodruff, lived on Morgan, too.
Dave Toadvine said his son had never enjoyed the game and he loved the fact that Derek did. Soon they were going to the batting cage.
“I would stay at his house five of the seven days of the week,” Derek said. “I spent all my time there, regardless of what I was doing, hanging out with friends.”
After the sixth grade, Derek said he convinced his mother to move into the county so he could attend Kenton Ridge High School with the friends he’d played Little League and travel baseball with since he was 6.
“My grandpa was 10 or 15 minutes away,” Derek said. “But it wasn’t the same as walking up the street and spending the night over there.”
Now for Kent State home games, Derek said, Dave will drive three hours each way, then do it again the next day if necessary.
“He doesn’t even stay in a hotel. It’s not like money’s an issue; he likes driving,” Derek said of his grandfather, who retired in 2006.
Dave Toadvine called Derek “an amazing baseball player,” proudly pointing out that he’ll play summer ball in Cape Cod.
“Pro baseball is a long shot, but you never know,” Dave Toadvine said.
Regardless of what happens against Florida, Derek will not let the outcome affect his love for the game, a game he might not have taken seriously if not for those special days in the backyard with his grandfather.
“I’m not just doing this for myself. I’m doing it for him,” Derek said. “He’s living his dream, too, just watching me succeed.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.