Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why it is easy to root for R.A. Dickey

Rob NaddelmanProfileRob Naddelman: Through a Parent’s Eyes

A few months back I was driving to Baseball Factory during my morning commute and tuned into NPR. I turned on the station in the middle on an interview and was surprised to hear people talking about the science of throwing a knuckeball. Most NPR topics are about politics, business, entertainment, etc. As a baseball fanatic, I was excited to continue listening to the interview to see who was being profiled.

The interview was with R.A. Dickey, the knuckleball pitcher for the NY Mets. The piece covered a variety of topics, and it was endearing to hear Dickey recount his path to the big leagues and the numerous obstacles he encountered along the way.

He did not have the easiest childhood by his own admission. His mother was an alcoholic, he frequently fled home and spent many nights alone in vacated homes, and he was the victim of abuse. He often felt lost and confused.

He was a very bright young man and he channeled his energies into his school work and the baseball field. He eventually went on to play in the SEC at the University of Tennessee as an English Major and Academic All American. During the interview, he said that if he wasn’t a MLB player, he probably would have pursued a career as an English Professor.

R.A. wasn’t always a knuckeball pitcher. In college, he was a traditional pitcher (and a very successful one) and was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the first round (18th overall) of the 1996 Major League Baseball Draft.

Based upon information taken below from Wikipedia, you will see that the post-draft happenings for Dickey quickly turned disastrous. After being drafted by the Rangers, Dickey was initially offered a signing bonus of $810,000. However, close to the day he was set to sign his professional contract, a Rangers team physician saw Dickey's throwing (right) arm hanging oddly in a picture. The Rangers subsequently did further evaluation of Dickey, leading to the discovery of a missing ulnar collateral ligament of elbow joint, and reduced their offer to $75,000. Dickey has been quoted as saying "Doctors look at me and say I shouldn’t be able to turn a doorknob without feeling pain," making his ability to pitch somewhat remarkable. Against the better judgment of some people, Dickey accepted the $75,000 and reported to minor league camp with the Rangers.

Dickey debuted with the Rangers in 2001. "His stuff was dime-a-dozen, though: a high-80′s fastball, an occasional fringy breaking ball, and a forkball he dubbed 'The Thing.' The start of the 2004 season was thought to be a turning point in Dickey's career, as he managed to compile a 4-1 record through his first five starts. This hot streak was short-lived however, and he ended up finishing the season a disappointing 6-7 with a 5.61 ERA.

As a way to revive his career, in 2006, Dickey turned himself into a knuckleball pitcher and proceeded to bounce around with many organizations including the Brewers, Twins, and Mariners. In 2010, he signed with the New York Mets and was promoted to the big leagues. After signing a two year deal with the Mets that year, he began to see more consistent results and he is currently at the top of most National League Pitching categories this year. Some experts think he will be named the starting pitcher for the National League in the MLB All Star Game.

The most appealing thing to me about Dickey is that he never gave up and never made any excuses. He took all of his adversity in stride and motivated himself to improve. Not many players would accept a $75,000 signing bonus after initially being offered $810,000. In addition, it takes a certain type of person to “re-invent” themselves which is exactly what Dickey did by becoming a knuckleball pitcher. He did all of this, after battling back from a very trying childhood, one that any parent would hope their child would never have to experience.

To me, R.A. Dickey is a great role model for kids and I hope he continues having success at the MLB level. I will be rooting for him…even though I am a Yankee fan and he plays for the Mets.

Rob Naddelman is the President of Baseball Factory. Naddelman is a former two-time All Ivy League Third Baseman at the University of Pennsylvania, where he competed in a College World Series Regional. He has served as the President of Baseball Factory for the past 14 years, and also is the Executive Director of Baseball Factory's charitable arm Baseball Factory and Team One Foundation. Naddelman and Steve Sclafani (CEO) have been featured in Business Week and CNN for their work in building Baseball Factory into the nation's leader in player development and college placement.

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