Vero Beach, FL, July 29, 2013 ─ A new baseball academy is hatching plans to train baseball players in the nuances of the knuckleball, the quirky low-spin pitch that confounds hitters, catchers and coaches alike.
The International Knuckleball Academy is the sole baseball training outfit in the country to focus exclusively on teaching it.
The school’s program director is minor league pitcher Chris Nowlin, who alongside R.A. Dickey was taught the pitch by the former Ranger All Star Charlie Hough. According to knuckleball.com, the Academy’s web site, Nowlin “had no bad habits to break and he learned everything about the delivery of the knuckleball from the ground up.” He early on forged the rock-solid mental approach that enabled him to “successfully navigate the egos and stress of the pro game.”
The site invites visitors to inspect videos that show Nowlin tossing his knuckleball and showcase the super-slow-motion camera technology used by the Academy to analyze components of a student’s pitch, including exactly how much the ball rotates on its way to the plate.
Also leading the IKA faculty is Coach Dallas Strankman.
Seemingly sidelined by shoulder injury early in his pro ball career, after a hiatus of some years he pulled out all the stops in training with Nowlin to develop a heavy, sharp sinker and Frisbee slider. The new pitching skills made it possible for Strankman to sign up with the El Paso Diablos at age 28, and go on to enjoy a brief but successful career in the minors. Then, after switching to full-time coaching, he led the pitching staff of Saguaro High School to Arizona State Championships in 2010 and 2011.
The IKA is inspired by the path that has been traveled by the great knuckleballers. At the moment, the most prominent knuckleballer in the Major Leagues, R.A. Dickey, is also the only knuckleballer─longtime Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield having recently retired. Both men are featured in the 2011 documentary “Knuckleball!” (currently available through vendors like Netflix, Amazon and iTunes).
Says Wakefield therein: “When you look at the course of my career, it’s been up and down, the good with the bad, the twists and the turns. You know, that’s what my pitch does.” He says that baseball has been his passion since he was five or six years old, when his dad taught him the knuckleball. “Never thought it would be a tool to use to try to get to the Major Leagues.” The movie runs footage from 1992 in which Wakefield says that the knuckleball has been not only a second-chance type of pitch for him, but an “only-chance type pitch to get to the big leagues: and it’s paying off.”
And here’s R.A. Dickey musing about the choices he’s made in life: “I think most people would have gotten the hint and probably left [professional baseball] behind a long time ago. And I really thought about giving it up. But when I reflect on the careers of Tim Wakefield, Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough, Hoyt Wilhelm, Wilbur Wood─I mean, all these great knuckleballers─the best parts of their career have come mid-to-late 30s, early 40s. And that brings with it a lot of hope.”
The IKA’s officers believe that there are more than a few potential Houghs, Wakefields and Dickeys awaiting proper tutelage. Ezra Wise, in charge of IKA operations and development, says the knuckleball has proven that it can be a comeback pitch for both pros and those hoping to go pro, including position players who have yet to pitch an inning.
“The Academy is for professional ball players unhappy with where they are, who want to jump-start their careers,” says Wise. “We’re also here for former college players who want to get back in the game before it’s too late. Basically, we’re here for any guy with a reasonable baseball background who is determined to blast through personal and institutional barriers and grab an opportunity for Big League success. The IKA is not for everybody. But it could be for you…and it could be your last shot. If it is, we say you should take it.”
“What future knuckleballers need most, in addition to their own restless ambition,” says Program Director Nowlin, “is a chance to train with pros who take the knuckleball seriously and know how to teach you its secrets. That’s what we offer you at the International Knuckleball Academy. You bring the sweat equity and we’ll teach you the pitch.” More information is available at Knuckleball.com.