Although it may seem to suggest a narrow focus, co-directors Anne Sundberg and Ricki Stern “found plot in a pitch, and two men whose careers have been defined by it: former Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Tim Wakefield and [former] New York Mets starter R.A. Dickey. Sundberg and Stern followed the pair─the last two pitchers who made their living throwing a knuckleball─throughout the 2011 Major League Baseball season, and the pitch’s unpredictable dips and swerves might as well be stand-in for the players’ respective sagas. ‘Knuckleball!’ tracks Wakefield and Dickey through wins, losses, injuries, self-doubts, and, for Wakefield and his Boston teammates, one epic collapse: The 2011 Red Sox blew a nine-game lead in September, and missed the playoffs….
“Beyond what happens between the white lines of the baseball diamond, ‘Knuckleball!’ tells the story of two men who constantly tried to overcome adversity in the face of increasingly difficult odds. It’s in that regard that ‘Knuckleball!’ transcends baseball to become something more: Not just a great sports film, but one of the year’s best portraits of the human spirit.”
One suspenseful aspect of the story has to do with when, or whether, Wakefield will win his 200th game. Fans are on the edge of their seats, as are the directors as they track the 2011 season. “Tim Wakefield going for his 200th win,” says a ticket hawker in the first moments of the film. An announcer says, “The knuckleball is of course an inconsistent pitch, but he’s been a consistent guy….”
Wakefield tells an interviewer that 200 “is a pretty magical number for me…considering that eighteen years ago, I was happy to get just one win.” After eight tries, Wakefield does indeed reach the magical number, when the Boston Red Sox defeat the Toronto Blue Jays on September 13, 2011.
Co-director Stern has told Rosen that “what really surprised me was when Tim got his 200th win, what he said moved him the most was when he looked out at the dugout. For them to get the press on the field and everything was about twenty minutes after the game. When he looked into the dugout, his whole team was still there. He said he was so moved…. That was surprising for us, because you think, ‘Really? You see them every day. You train with them every day.’ But he said, you just kind of get lost in a little bubble that late in the season.”
More than 38,000 fans in a hometown crowd get to see the win. One of many signs in the stands referring to the milestone says WORTH THE WAKE.
“There have been many ups and downs along the way,” Wakefield would say when announcing his retirement. “But one thing is for sure. Every time I stepped on that mound, I gave everything I had.”