Knuckleball carries R.A. Dickey to baseball stardom
Mets pitcher Robert Allen Dickey says he's heard hitters say "It's like trying to eat Jello with chopsticks." But throwing the knuckleball is so complex, Dickey is the only man in major league baseball still doing it. "It's like trying to throw a butterfly into a mailbox," is his best analogy.
"I represent the very last one. I'm the only one in the Major Leagues. And it's kinda lonely."
The pitch is not fast like the 90+ mph balls being thrown in the Majors. The speed is usually 65 to 80 mph, but it wiggles and zags so much that it move up to two feet before crossing the strike zone.
Not everyone is built to master such a tricky pitch. It's more of a push, of sorts.
The baseball is gripped with the fingernails of the pitchers index and middle fingers. Dickey says, it's best thrown with average size hands, and a gigantic understanding of the physical laws of the atmosphere.
"I grip the ball in an effort to take spin completely off the ball& when I throw it and it comes at you, you can read it the writing on baseball if I've done it right. Then the wind resistance on the seams creates a chaotic type of break and the hitter cannot recognize it," Dickey says.
But along with a good throw, the weather must be right. Rain is no good to grip the ball, but a dry forecast allows him to grip the ball with his fingernails. Dickey says, "Water moisture rain light drizzle that's my enemy."
He says the worst weather places to play are Colorado because of the high altitude and Arizona because of the extreme heat - the best place is Citifield in Flushing, Queens where there is a summer full of humidity and a light breeze off the Bay.
"When you throw a good one in perfect weather& it moves late and abruptly. It's darting like a bumble bee," says Dickey.
The erractic pitch Dickey throws is a mimic of his life in many ways - full of twists and turns.
He wrote a detailed account in a new book "Wherever I Wind Up," where he reveals a dark childhood secret of abuse, his reckless, risk taking moments that almost killed him and how he nearly lost his baseball dreams.
Dickey credits his wife Anne and their beautiful family (who currently live on Long Island) for his journey of personal redemption which he says simultaneously brought him success on the mound. "The more I grew as a human being the better I got at my craft the more willing I was to task risks and trust the outcome."
Personally, I found Dickey's book so good I read it in one sitting. I was immediately invested in his emotional account of being victimized as a child, his ability to share the story and convey his experience is very authentic.
I felt the regret as he recalled reckless moments taking life threatening risks. And my heart sank as he recounted the moments when his life long dream to play Major League Baseball nearly slipped away.
But most of all, I could relate to his very real struggle to chose security for his wife and 4 children or ask them to sacrifice as he risked everything to achieve his dreams.
Meeting him in person, he is just as real. He may be on the verge of a All Star year as a professional baseball player, but he's also an inspirational person with depth and wisdom that is pitching hope to anyone willing to read his story.
No matter what sport or team you love, RA Dickey is a man worth cheering for!
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