Uncommon Pitch Saves R.A. Dickey's Career
By Tom Buehring
The 700 Club
CBN.com -The Toronto Blue Jays’ R. A. Dickey stands alone. He’s baseball’s only pitcher daring enough to throw the unpredictable knuckleball.
“When it leaves your hand it’s going to do what it’s going to do,” says Dickey. “When you throw a perfect knuckleball, it may break and curve three or four ways before it ever gets to the catcher’s mitt.”
Its uncertain path resembles the first nine seasons of R. A.’s career, mostly spent in the minor leagues. In 2006, with an aging arm and at the urging of his pitching coach, he picked up the knuckler, a transition few veteran pitchers are willing to even try.
“Your whole life as a conventional pitcher you’re taught to impart a certain type of spin onto the baseball to manipulate the break,” says R.A. “A knuckleball is that I’m trying to take the spin completely off of the baseball, that’s a whole different dynamic mechanically. It’s a different hand position, it’s a different release point and it was difficult for me.”
R. A. spent the next four years with four different teams and three extended Triple-A stops, the longest in Nashville where he surrendered 25 years of previous training honing the new pitch. But while working to stop the spin on his knuckleball, his life was spinning in turmoil.
“I was running from a past that was very painful to deal with and very secret,” says R.A. “When I was sexually abused at 8 years old, I didn’t trust another human being, much less a caring God. When you go through abuse, it’s like something handicaps you in that moment. My growth was stunted both emotionally and spiritually, the way I interacted with people, trying to control that as much as possible. I got to the place where I came to the end of myself.
R. A. continues, “I was behind the wheel of a car and had a garden hose taped to a tail pipe, running in the driver’s side window. And was about to end it all. And I felt God say, ‘this is not how it’s meant to be for you.’ And I was able not to turn the key, sought help the next day. And it allowed me to go into places, dark places, that I had never dared venture before.”
It took R. A. a year and a half with a therapist before opening his deepest wound.
“As you grow up with those dysfunctional traits, they manifest in all kinds of different ways and become toxic. I had to relearn. I had to go back and confront, um, that boy again and learn how to do life differently, do relationship differently,” says R. A. “It was about establishing trust. But one of the things that helps me to do that in the moment is the foundation of a relationship with Jesus Christ, despite the tragedy and despite the appalling things that happened in my past. I feel like when I came to know Christ more intimately, I had real purpose in that.”
R.A. agreed to a contract with the New York Mets. It was there that his new grip grabbed hold of opportunity. Coming off his most promising major league season he reinvented his career.
“When I started to disassociate myself with the identity of being a professional baseball player and started to concentrate on how I could be a more complete human being, my knuckleball started to graduate to different places,” says R.A.
The 37-year-old became the first knuckleballer in baseball history to win the cy young award. Before the season he authored a book, disclosing his abuse, relational mistrust and fear of uncertainty using the unpredictability of the knuckleball to tell it.
“That has kind of been a real interesting metaphor, you know, for my journey. My life has been one direction, up, down, sideways. I’ve just been like the trajectory of a knuckleball. You don’t always have a say in what happens in your life, you know,” says R. A.
Including his career moves. After his Cy Young season, R. A.’s value skyrocketed. So did the cost of extending his contract. He was traded to Toronto. The ace of the Blue Jays staff is learning the discipline of surrender.
“I have to be all in,” says R.A. “So much that whatever happens you’re okay with it. When it leaves your hand you have to let it go. I think the word surrender it’s an active verb. I mean you have to be intentional about doing it. If I invest in the process of doing relationship well with a living God, I have to surrender to the outcome of what it’s going to be. It’s not something that just happens naturally. It is against my human nature to give over what I want to control. It takes practice.”
That practice has brought healing and perspective.
“I’m able to look back and say, ‘you had a special narrative planned out for me, and I want him to fix it.’ And he doesn’t necessarily fix it on my timing,” says R. A. “God has given me a journey that is so clear because of all the similarities between the actual pitch that I throw and my walk as a human being and as a Christian.”
R. A. Dickey. The knuckleball specialist is thankful for the grace and love of Jesus Christ.
“When you take the risk of entering into a relationship with a living God through Jesus Christ, but let your expectation be that God wants to love you where you are, wherever that is, your brokenness. He wants to be there with you in that moment,” says R.A. “How can I grow as a human being into who he has called me to authentically be? God is in control of my life and I’m thankful for it.”
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