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March 31st, 2013

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10:32 pm - R.A.
In the Fantasy Baseball draft the weekend before last, I took Toronto starting pitcher R.A. Dickey with my fifth pick. I'd had Dickey on my team last year, picking him up as a free agent mostly because of the novelty that he was a knuckleballer. It turned out to be a genius move, as he won 20 games for the Mets and was the NL Cy Young Award winner. It turns out that he was also an English major at the University of Tennessee. I recently finished listening to an audiobook version of his autobiography, Wherever I Wind Up. He has quite an interesting story.

Most knuckleballers take up the pitch as a mid-career move, because their career isn't moving in the right direction and they need a change. Dickey is no different. He was drafted with some fanfare by the Texas Rangers after pitching for the 1996 Olympic team. But then it was discovered that he had no ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm. The Rangers backed away from their original offer. Dickey ended up bouncing around in the minor leagues, eventually being categorized as a AAAA player: too good for AAA ball, but not good enough for the big leagues. Then he switched to the knuckleball and joined the oddball fraternity.

He's 38 now and just coming off of his best year as a pitcher. He's at an age where he should be retired already, but knuckleballers can pitch into their 40s, because the pitch doesn't strain the arm much. In his book, Dickey relates that he was sexually abused as a boy. He relates his parents' short-lived marriage and his hardships growing up. He relates his conversion to Christianity. He was an award-winning poet at his high school in Nashville. But what I liked best was his description of the knuckleball as a pitch and the tight-knit fraternity of knuckleballers. In learning to pitch the knuckleball, a relatively slow pitch whose deceptive power rests in the fact that it doesn't spin much or at all, causing it to behave unpredictably on its path to the plate, confounding batters and catchers alike.

It seemed to me that Dickey's evolution as a pitcher was not only in converting to the knuckleball, but also learning to let go of anxiety and worry and to live in the moment. I listened to his book after re-listening to the Timothy Galway classic, The Inner Game of Tennis, and Dickey seems to be well aware of the inner game in his exploration of pitching.

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R.A. - flash & yearn

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