Before I get into the interview with R.A. Dickey from the Citi Field Kids Day on Wednesday, let me set up the situation.
Dickey walks out with his customary beard but with an insane bro-flow going on. Listening to him speak made me feel like I was sitting in English Literature class. His appearance and eloquent speech would have made him a great English professor, which was his backup plan had baseball not worked out. He certainly looked the part.
Naturally, much of the conversation centered around his elusive knuckleball and how he was able to throw it consistently for strikes last year.
“I’m different than a lot of knuckleballers in that I throw my knuckleball a little harder,” said Dickey. “It’s less erratic but still severe.”
This spring training will be much different for Dickey in that he has a role locked up. For the past few seasons, he has been on the outside looking in at possibly cracking a Major League roster.
“It will give me the opportunity to not really be results oriented and really let me work on my craft,” said Dickey. “It’s a real blessing. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be able to do that because I think it will make me better in the long run.”
His knuckleball is truly a work of art, and hopefully he further perfects the pitch this spring.
He also plans to get off to a quick start this season. He claims that last spring training, he wasn’t quite in “knuckleball shape” (whatever that means), but he hit his peak in May. Obviously, we saw him get called up in May, so that’s when things clicked.
Dickey noted that he was not surprised one bit with his 6-0 start to last season. Granted, several things fell perfectly into place, but he attributed his success to his hard work and development of his masterful pitch.
“My hope is that last year was not an anomaly at all, and I’m confident it’s not,” said Dickey. “My hope is that it’s just the natural evolution of the journey I’ve started with the knuckleball. Every year it’s gotten gradually better.”
Though Johan Santana won’t be around for the early part of the season, Dickey believes that there is no added pressure on him or the other pitchers in the staff.
“There’s enough pressure as it is just performing at a high level,” said Dickey. “I don’t add any to that. A lot of that you can control as an athlete.”
Speaking about Terry Collins, Dickey understand that there will be a learning curve early on amongst the players. Luckily for Dickey, he became familiar with Collins during the time he spent at Buffalo in the early part of the season.
“From what I know about him now, I love it,” said Dickey. “I love his intensity, I love what he brings. There’s a different kind of energy than we had last year and even previous years. I think that’s what this team needs.”
He is eager to experience a renewed sense of energy. From here, the literature lesson continued.
“I heard a great quote one time,” said Dickey. “It said: ‘A high tide rises all ships.’ If you’ve got the energy and the momentum going, it’s going to do some things to some guys in here that they may not be ready for which is good.”
As out there as it may sound, Dickey makes an excellent point. He believes that through this new energy, players will discover their true potential and play to it. When guys feed off each other, everyone involved reaps the benefits.
“The more we can invest in each other and in the clubhouse, the better product you’re going to see on the field,” said Dickey.
Naturally, Dickey has faith in his teammates and believes that the fans are in for a surprise. This is a different team with a healthy Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, as Dickey mentioned.
He, as well as several of the other pitchers, stressed consistency as a major key to success.
“My number one goal is to remain trustworthy, to remain consistent, to remain dependable,” said Dickey. “Everybody has those clunkers from time to time, but hopefully that is the anomaly.”
Dickey looks forward to working again with Josh Thole. The two developed a great relationship in Buffalo, and it showed as Thole caught most of Dickey’s starts.
“He is a hard worker and a very selfless catcher,” said Dickey. “Those aren’t two adjectives that you normally hear thrown around a big league clubhouse. He loves the challenge of it. He doesn’t run from it; he wants to embrace it.”
When asked if he had some sort of epiphany last year that made him feel like he belonged, Professor Dickey responded with the following:
“I don’t think there was one moment. I think it was very organic in the way that it happened for me. Part of my journey was trying to realize what a consistent knuckleball looks like. There have been steps that I’ve had to take that have been fairly significant. I’ve had doubts from time to time, but the hope has always outweighed the doubts.”
We could have talked to Dickey for hours more, and he seemed willing to do so. He talked about some of the books he was reading and that he is expecting his fourth child soon.
Overall, after talking with him, it’s hard to realize any baseball fan not rooting for this guy to succeed. Here’s to seeing an even better version of the 2010 R.A. Dickey.