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Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Baseball star Hopkins overcame leukemia

By Matthew Muench

David Hopkins
East Greenwich (R.I.) junior shortstop/right-hander David Hopkins overcame leukemia to become one of Rhode Island's top baseball players.
The odds were stacked against East Greenwich (R.I.) during last year’s Division 1 state baseball tournament.

After losing their opening-round game, the Avengers had to win four straight contests in four days if they wanted to reach the state Final Four.

No chance, right?

“Just looking at the situation, it was pretty devastating,” said star shortstop/right-handed pitcher David Hopkins said. “But life is about battling. Baseball is about overcoming. We had to have a no-quit attitude.”

With that attitude in place, East Greenwich went on a four-day winning spree and cashed in its first Division 1 Final Four appearance with a 6-5 win over Cranston East (Cranston, R.I.).

“It wasn’t easy,” Hopkins said. “But we as a team battled back. It was a great moment.”

Battling is nothing new for Hopkins, now a junior playing in his third season on the varsity squad.

But what he’s had to overcome is far greater than anything he’s faced on the diamond.

“I fought cancer,” he said, “and I beat it.”

***

Hopkins was diagnosed with leukemia when he was eight years old.

“It felt like the whole world was coming down,” his father, Kevin, said. “You never want to wish that kind of news on anyone.”

David Hopkins faced the news as positively as he could.

“It was tough for sure, but it kind of worked out well for me because I was diagnosed in the fall,” he said. “Since it wasn’t baseball season, I didn’t have to worry about missing any games while I went through my first rounds of treatment.”

Missing one inning of baseball was never an option for Hopkins, even while he was going through rounds of chemotherapy treatments that lasted almost three years.

He lost his hair, but he didn’t lose his passion for baseball.

He never missed a doctor’s appointment, but he never missed a game, either.

For five years, he fought the disease and officially became cancer free when he was 13.

“Baseball helped me fight (cancer),” he said. “My desire to play is what kept me going. I wasn’t going to take my glove off.”

Hopkins’ last game of his Little League career happened to be held on the same field he played on when he was first diagnosed. And in his final at-bat on the field, he hit a home run. He was in remission at the time.

“The home run was very metaphoric,” Kevin Hopkins said. “It showed people that life goes on. That’s where it started. And that’s where the cancer ended.”

The desire to beat cancer has taught David Hopkins about facing and beating adversity, on and off the baseball field.

“It gave me perspective on what you have to battle for in life,” he said. “There will always be things you have to overcome. When I was younger, cancer was my battle. But now I know every day there is going to be a different battle. You have to face them and take them on.”

***

Hopkins could have gone to a private school to play high school baseball. But while the opportunities to get noticed by college and pro scouts might have been higher elsewhere, the majority of Hopkins’ Little League teammates were heading to East Greenwich. So staying home was his first and only choice.

“I wanted to play with my friends,” he said. “I wanted to play in the community who has supported me.”

Now the Avengers are one of the top teams in Division 1 and Hopkins is a big reason why.

The preseason ESPNHS All-State first-team selection picked up 16 wins on the mound during his first two seasons and has also excelled at the plate.

“He works his tail off,” East Greenwich coach Robert Downey said. “He is always the first guy at practice. He is a team-first type of player. Kids look up to him because they know he is always giving it his all 365. He has the attitude you are supposed to have.”

Division I college scouts have started to show interest, and Hopkins has played in multiple showcase events in New England and Florida, racking up multiple individual awards.

But Hopkins isn’t one to show off his accolades.

“I put (my awards) in the basement,” he said. “I enjoy them for a second and show them to my parents, but individual awards are not what I am looking for. I want a state title.”

It’s a new challenge for Hopkins, and he’s certainly not one to back down to a challenge.

Just ask cancer.