The day your coaches suggest you stop throwing your “real” pitches in favor of the silly, flighty knuckleball is a humbling day.
I remember that day, as a freshman on the college baseball team, when my coach, a giant with a big heart named Chet, called me aside and effectively ended my pitching career. My fastball wasn’t fast enough and that was all there was to it. If I wanted to stay around, I would learn to throw the knuckleball.
That was a humbling day. I can only imagine how R.A. Dickey felt the day he was called into his big-league manager’s office and heard the same harebrained idea from a couple of guys named Buck and Orel.
They aren’t going to bring you back to the big leagues as a conventional pitcher, R.A. You’re coming back as a knuckleball pitcher or you are not coming back at all.
Humbling, for a guy who was once drafted in the first round with his 94 mile an hour fastball, seems too weak a word.
This is the story- or possibly the most insignificant piece of the story- of the defending Cy Young Award winner of the National League. At age 37, R.A. Dickey won 20 games for a team who finished 4th out of 5 in their division. But that statistic pales in comparison to R.A. Dickey’s story, recorded in Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest For Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball, published in 2012.
His story is captivating. And in a sports-era marked by cheaters, liars, and scoundrels, the candor of R.A. Dickey is as fresh as new-cut grass and surprising as a perfect knuckleball in the slight breeze.
In a sporting realm that values power, strength, and flash, Dickey is content to soft-toss butterflies up to the plate. In a Christian realm that values getting it right, Dickey is vulnerable, going out of his way to chronicle his missteps and failures. In a cultural realm that values confidence, Dickey expresses his fears.
And this is why a book about a journeyman 37-year-old knuckleball pitcher connects. This is a man who has lived as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. This is a man who grew up without the emotional presence of mom and dad. This is a man whose face went from the cover of Baseball America to the bizarre story of a pitcher born without a crucial tendon in his arm to ten years of obscurity. In 2006, with his career going nowhere, his marriage falling apart and his greatest fears being realized, this is a man who contemplated taking his own life.
But this is the story of a fighter. This is the story of a survivor. This is the story of a man who fought for his life, who learned to be vulnerable, who became the father he never had, who became the husband he could never be.
This is the story of a man embracing his journey. This is the story of a man living out his faith in Christ.
In a couple of weeks, pitchers and catchers will report for Spring Training, and R.A. Dickey will pitch for the Blue Jays. He certainly has a new fan in me.