Veteran knuckleball pitcher Phil Niekro—one of the few former pro baseball pitchers able to share firsthand insights about throwing the knuckleball with the few current pro knuckleball pitchers—is especially satisfied by the news that R.A. Dickey has joined the Atlanta Braves. Steve Hummer of the Tribune News Service reports:
“It’s kind of special for me. I was lit up when he signed,” said Phil Niekro, one of the classic Braves and a brother in that very select fraternity of those pitchers who literally cling to baseball by their fingernails.
Finally, 30 years after the Hall of Famer threw his last knuckleball for the Braves…Knucksie has the opportunity to witness once more the merger of his pitch and his franchise. Two aspects of his life of which he is paternally proud have been reunited.
Niekro and Dickey are two of the knuckleball’s great advocates, the former ushering the eccentric pitch into the Hall of Fame in 1997, the latter riding it to the Cy Young Award with the Mets in 2012….
Dickey calls his mentors “the Jedi Council.” Yes, he is, according to his Twitter profile, a “Star Wars nerd” along with “father, husband, Christian, pitcher, author, adventurer, reader, ninja in training & cyclist.”
“Each of those men [Charlie Hough and Phil Niekro] taught me something that I needed at that moment. It was really fortuitous how it happened because I couldn’t have understood what Phil was telling me unless I had already been to Charlie. All these guys offered me something at the right time. And Phil is a guy I still call if I’m scuffling. I won’t have to go too far now if I want to get with him. It’s nice to have a guy like that in your corner.”
Dickey tells MLB.com‘s Mark Bowman that as a baseball player “I knew I was capable of a lot more” after being released by the Toronto Blue Jays. “Which is why I’m here. If I didn’t, I would have retired.”
Fortunately for Dickey, he didn’t have to wait long to find his next job, as the Braves signed him during the first week of the free-agent season. It was a perfect match for the 42-year-old hurler, who avidly watched the Braves during his youth and now wanted an opportunity to pitch close to his family’s Nashville, Tenn., home.
“I’ve felt really good,” Dickey said. “My body has felt great. I feel like my arm strength is coming back quick, and I’m loving getting to know my new teammates. I’ve had a lot of fun doing that. There is a lot to look forward coming to the park for me, because I get a chance to get to know these guys better and a better chance to work on my craft.”
* * *
Will the Tampa Bay Rays give Brian Wilson a chance to wield his knuckleball? So suggests a tweet by Tampa Bay Times sports reporter Marc Topkin, saying that the “#Rays have interest in [right-handed pitcher] Brian Wilson, who is seeking to come back as a knuckleballer.” We noted the formerly bearded former MLB pitcher’s interest in using the pitch to return to the majors in our last post. Wilson has long regarded the knuckleball as a pitch he might turn to at some point in his career.
* * *
Speaking of back-in-action knuckleballers, Steven Wright is in the news for his “first bullpen of spring training” after having “missed all but three starts during the final two months of 2016 because a shoulder injury…”
Wright told told Christopher Smith of MassLive.com:
“It felt good. It felt a lot better than I thought it would…. I felt like the ball was coming out good. It definitely gives me some energy to build off of and take it into the next one.”
Red Sox manager John Farrell concurs.
“I thought Steven Wright today was unrestricted…. He was out on his front side with good extension. He was able to throw both his fastball and his knuckleball today. He didn’t speak of any lingering issues with the shoulder. So a very productive and positive day for Steven.”
* * *
Manga and anime fans: there is a knuckleball pitcher in the manga and anime series about baseball called “Ace of Diamond” (a.k.a. “Diamond No Ace”). MyAnimeList describes Nagao Akira as “a student of Sakurazawa High and the ace of Sakurazawa High’s baseball team. He is the only known pitcher that specializes in throwing the knuckleball pitch.”