Get Ready for a Surprise: Knuckleball Pitcher R.A. Dickey…

…may still be with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2017?

At least that’s the hint dropped by Jays GM Ross Atkins at an October 24 press conference. Via Jays From the Couch:

When trying to decide exactly what their targets are, Atkins left a lot of room for possibilities. “We have an incredible core to build around. We’re returning our starting pitching. We’re open to R.A. Dickey, even. We’re not turning our backs on anyone. There aren’t many GMs that wouldn’t sign up for the opportunity we have right now.”

DickeysFirstAudienceThat does sound as if Dickey is not quite at the top of the list. On the other hand, earlier reporting about the Jays’ 2017 lineup implied that it was virtually certain that Dickey would be either pursuing other employment or even retiring from baseball altogether next year.

We know of at least one longtime R.A. Dickey watcher who would lay 3-to-1 odds that the pitcher won’t be remaining with Toronto in the coming year. But it has to help that, like fellow knuckleball pitcher Steven Wright, Dickey is always gracious and upbeat in his public comments no matter what curve balls (or knuckleballs) are being thrown his way.

The first knuckleballer in MLB history to win the Cy Young Award—in 2012—has a history of bouncing back and beating expectations. Not long before that breakout year he had still been striving in the minor leagues, where he’d ground out endless innings after narrowly missing an MLB start right out of college.

What propelled Dickey was not only his decision to go all in with the knuckleball but his ability to transcend past disappointments and tribulations, as symbolized in his mind by a baptism-by-water in 2006. As we once put it, Dickey “had to almost drown in the water…before he stopped almost-drowning in his baseball career.” According to an NPR report:

After transitioning to the knuckleball, Dickey gave up six runs in his first start of the 2006 season, tying a modern-era baseball record. He was demoted to the minors in Oklahoma, where after a game one night, he decided to swim across the Missouri River—a big, fast-moving waterway with a lot of undertow. Five minutes into the swim, Dickey realized he was in big trouble.

“Every stroke was a determined stroke to try to survive an experience where I [thought that I] may drown,” he says. “I had given myself over to the fact that this was it, I wasn’t going to make it. The undertow was pulling me down.”

Dickey’s feet hit the bottom of the Missouri just as he was about to open his mouth and take a breath underwater. He bounced up and dog-paddled toward the side, where a teammate plucked him from the water.

WhereverIWindUp“I look at it as almost a baptism of sorts I went into the Missouri River, I was hanging on by a thread professionally…. And when I came out of the river, I ended up going 11-2 with a 2.80 ERA and became the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year. I think when I came out of the river, I was so consumed with just wanting to live in the present well—wanting to enjoy every second—that I think that carried over directly into my pitching, and I just cared about each pitch singularly…. And I decided that that’s how I wanted to live my life.”

A philosophy of mind as well as a philosophy of life. One pitch at a time it is; and, for Dickey, the current uncertainty must seem trivial compared to what he has gone through in years past (all chronicled in his memoir, Wherever I Wind Up). Whether it’s a new season with the Jays, a fresh start with a new baseball team, or a fresh start in a whole new career, Dickey is going to do just fine in 2017—wherever he winds up.

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