On Sunday night, R.A. Dickey was named an All-Star for the first time in a career that has been just as unpredictable as the pitch for which he was made famous.
R.A. Dickey certainly didn’t travel the conventional path to sports stardom, but his journey does embody one of the most important virtues in sports: hard work.
Dickey spent the first 13 years of his career bouncing around MLB farm systems and battling personal demons before finally discovering solace in his life and subsequently finding his way into the Mets’ starting rotation in 2010. Now, at age 37, Dickey is having the sort of season that we are accustomed to watching from the seat of a movie theater, not a baseball stadium.
Dickey’s knuckleball has become symbolic for his life (for more about this, here’s a column about Dickey’s long journey to becoming a full-time MLB starter). It is a pitch nearly impossible to describe, predict, and most importantly, control. And Dickey’s development of the pitch mimicked his development as a person. As he battled many of his demons off the field, he also began to tame the pitch that was once a mere novelty in his arsenal.
Early in his professional baseball career, Dickey unveiled a forkball that was pitched at a higher velocity than the average forkball or knuckleball. When Dickey was part of the Texas Rangers’ organization, his pitching coach was former Cy Young award winner and World Series MVP, Orel Hershiser. Hershiser dubbed the forkball “The Thing,” because of its unpredictability. As Dickey continued to struggle as a conventional pitcher, he made the decision that “The Thing” would have to become a more significant part of his pitching repertoire.
In the Disney version of Dickey’s story, R.A. Dickey decides to start throwing the knuckleball, and he becomes a legend overnight. But the lesser told part of Dickey’s story is the fact that opposing offenses used to feast on his knuckleball. Before joining the Mets, Dickey tried out his Knuckleball with four different teams. In 2006, while on the Rangers, Dickey tied the modern day record for most home runs given up in one game (six). Two years later as a member of the Twins, Dickey threw four wild pitches in an inning, which tied another modern day record (but fell one wild pitch short of my little league record of five).
R.A. Dickey worked tirelessly to become a better knuckleball pitcher, and after years of struggling, he finally gained enough control of the pitch to become a reliable starter for the Buffalo Bisons, the Mets’ minor league affiliate. Once Dickey became a full-time starter for the Mets, “The Thing” became “A Thing;” a pitch that had been nearly perfected, a pitch that could be controlled and put on a catcher’s target, and most importantly, a pitch that MLB hitters have been unable to figure out. And with “The Thing” at it’s proverbial “Thingiest,” R.A. Dickey has become one of the most un-hittable pitchers in the game. This past June, Dickey went 5-0 (with a “no-decision” against the Yankees), and gave up a total of only 21 hits and five earned runs in more than 48 innings.
Dickey certainly didn’t travel the conventional path to sports stardom, but his journey does embody one of the most important virtues in sports: hard work. Dickey’s knuckleball was not a physical gift that he had since birth. It was a pitch that took years and years of practice before it could be controlled and utilized at the professional level. R.A. Dickey is able to showcase “The Thing” now because people recognized his devotion every step of the way. He spent most of his life developing a skill that made him unique, and what makes him unique is now what also makes him great.
What can we learn from R.A. Dickey? For starters, we can appreciate the value of a strong work ethic. If you consistently work hard to get better, you will get noticed, whether you are 12, 25, 37, or 73. Your work ethic can define you; and in Dickey’s case, his work ethic has defined his journey towards controlling the uncontrollable.
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Article Written By: Jared Ziedman, Executive Editor, TakeOverTheGame.com