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R.A. Dickey and the Human Narrative

By Mike Silva ~ August 23rd, 2011. Filed under: Mike Silva, New York Mets.

R.A. Dickey was holding court before Friday night’s Mets- Brewers games at Citi Field. He was talking about why he recently joined Twitter, his upcoming climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the manuscript for his memoir that is due out next April, and how throwing the knuckleball is about relationship and perfection. I asked Dickey if he could have imagined two years ago his position in the game today. “The human narrative is just a neat thing,” he said. “There is lot of that is outside my control, but the stuff that I felt like I could control I really tried to throw myself into it.  I am able to see some fruit of a lot of hard work that people poured into me.”

On December 21st, 2009, then General Manager Omar Minaya signed the knuckleballer Dickey to a minor league deal. The only reason that New York fans knew him was due to this YouTube video where Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo mocked his name on WFAN after he beat the Mets as a member of the Mariners in 2008. R…A…Dickeee, shouted Russo. Dickey was one of the first pitchers cut in ’09 Spring Training. All he did was go down to Buffalo and nearly throw a perfect game. When the rotation suffered injuries, Dickey was one of the first arms called up. He finished the year 11-9, with a 2.83 ERA, including a one-hitter against the Phillies. He was rewarded with a 2 year/$7.8 million dollar contract after the season. The kid from the University of Tennessee that was drafted and lost a signing bonus because he didn’t have an ulnar collateral ligament had finally achieved some security. Twenty months later the Mets continue to struggle as a team, but it’s hard to argue that R.A. Dickey has been anything but a success story.

Many believe his ability to throw a trick pitch is the reason for his popularity with the fans. It’s deeper than that. Talk to Dickey for a few minutes, and it’s no different than a conversation you may have with a business colleague, professor, or friend. Baseball is just part of who he is. On Twitter, where he openly interacts with the fans, you will catch him discussing literature and the latest novel he’s reading, answering questions about teammates (hint: he claims to be one of the worst dressed Mets), and make numerous Star Wars references. His Twitter profile doesn’t just read “NY Mets Pitcher,” but rather puts his profession amongst other descriptors such as “father, husband, Christian, author, adventurer, Star Wars nerd, reader, ninja in training, and cyclist.” He is no different than you or I. To date, I have seen Dickey post a picture of himself in a Darth Vader costume, but haven’t’ seen a picture of his knuckleball grip.

After Sunday’s no-decision against the Brewers his career record with the Mets stands at 16-20. That doesn’t tell the story as Dickey’s ERA+ of 118 ranks 12th in the National League the last two years. I suspect Dickey would be a contender for 18 wins this year if he played 90 miles south on the Turnpike. When I brought up how his season doesn’t look bad if you go beyond the won-loss record he admits “that specific metric (wins) is not a good measurement,” but “he doesn’t enjoy anything more than winning, because that is such a good statistic for me personally.” With that said, the practical side of Dickey comes out and he adds that “at the end of the year if I could look back and have an ERA that I feel like is in a good place, and  innings pitched , it will show that I am reliable and trustworthy, and that’s all I want to be.”

Is this an unlikely story? To outsiders perhaps, but not Dickey. “Let me be perfectly frank. Anytime you have an opportunity to play there’s a level of expectation. You’re out there because people are expecting you to do well. That’s the umbrella we play under.”

What’s next in the R.A. Dickey narrative? He will finish out the baseball season as strong as can be. He will climb Kilimanjaro with bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello and Twins starting pitcher Kevin Slowey. If it doesn’t put a burden on his family he may make a return trip to Cuba where he participated in a humanitarian effort last winter. Will this narrative last into his mid-forties like his knuckleball mentor Charlie Hough? Dickey paused and said “I don’t know. I have the kind of story that I’m much better living the next five minutes well.”

Mike Silva is a freelance writer and radio host since March of 2007. This website is his own personal "digest" of New York Baseball He's also hosts NYBD Radio on Blog Talk Radio and 1240 AM WGBB. Check out his sports media commentary at www.sportsmediawatchdog.com. Check out his official website, www.mikesilvamedia.com
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