R. A. Dickey’s Pitches, And Life, Like A Rollercoaster

Image: james_in_to
R. A. Dickey is seen here on the mound for the Toronto Blue Jays. Image: james_in_to

When the new pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team – R. A. Dickey – throws a pitch, it goes up and down like a rollercoaster.

A rollercoaster: just like his childhood, his career and his life. Although it’s been a bumpy ride, he’s now in a good place as one of the best pitchers in the major leagues.

This year, he signed a contract for three years, for more than $25-million.

That’s a long way from the $11,000 a year he used to make as pitcher in the minor leagues.

At that time, around 2005, Dickey was a struggling pitcher throwing fastballs. But the batters were able to hit them, and sometimes knock them out of the park.

Whatever he was doing, it wasn’t working.

He was told he wasn’t good enough for the major leagues and if he didn’t do something different he should just give up. Someone suggested that instead of fastballs, he try throwing knuckleballs.

The knuckleball is tricky to throw and nearly impossible to hit—when it’s done right.

“If I throw a bad knuckleball, you could hit it,” R. A. Dickey told TV reporter Lesley Stahl in a recent interview on the show 60 Minutes. “If I throw a good knuckleball… nobody’s hitting it.”

Knuckleballs are unpredictable because they don’t fly straight like a fastball. They bob and bounce around in the air as they approach the batter. Sometimes they dip and sometimes they hook a little to the right or left. They hardly even spin.

The batter might lunge for the ball, or he might swing in the wrong place because he doesn’t know where the ball is going to go.

Neither, really, does the pitcher.

It’s called a knuckleball because when the batter is looking at the pitcher, he sees the pitcher’s knuckles as he throws the ball.

Dickey had a difficult and often lonely childhood. He got himself through the challenges he faced and was able to make it into a good school on a scholarship when he was 13.

In 2005, when he was struggling to hold onto his pitching career, he did it again—he got himself through the tough times. Dickey decided to change his entire way of pitching and switch from throwing fastballs to throwing knuckleballs.

It was such a rare pitch that there wasn’t anyone to teach it to him. So he taught himself how to throw it.

For two years, he threw thousands of them and he spent all of his spare time working on his new pitch.

Eventually, Dickey started to get it right. He is now the only pitcher in the major leagues to throw the knuckleball as his primary pitch—he almost always uses it—and last year, at age 37, he had the best season of his life with 20 wins, according to 60 Minutes. He won the Cy Young Award for best pitcher, and was the Sporting News Pitcher Of The Year.

This year he’s a pitcher for the Blue Jays in Toronto and hoping to have another amazing season.

His rollercoaster pitch, and life, are going just great.

Related links
Science can’t explain exactly why a knuckleball travels the way it does. This article in the Globe and Mail explains what they do know, and what they’re still trying to figure out about the pitch.

By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Perseverance is a characteristic that many people possess. Perseverance is the ability to overcome challenges and to stick to your goals. R. A. Dickey’s story is of an athlete who demonstrates great perseverance. Who do you know that demonstrates perseverance? How do they demonstrate it?

Reading Prompt: Point of View
When it comes to sports, fans often villainize opponents and make heroes of star players on their own team. Does today’s article provide a heroic picture of R. A. Dickey? How might a New York Mets fan (R. A. Dickey’s previous team) view him?

Identify the point of view presented in a text and suggest some possible alternative perspectives (OME, Reading: 1.9).

Identify the point of view presented in texts, ask questions to identify missing or possible alternative points of view, and suggest some possible alternative perspectives (OME, Reading: 1.9).

Identify the point of view presented in texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts; give evidence of any biases they may contain; and suggest other possible perspectives (OME, Reading: 1.9).

Grammar Feature: Simile
A simile is one of many literary devices that an author can use to create a special effect in their writing. When making a simile, use the words “like” or “as” to make a comparison between two things. The sentence below is an example,

“When the new pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team – R. A. Dickey – throws a pitch, it goes up and down like a rollercoaster.”

This example is a simile because, R. A. Dickey’s pitch,  “goes up and down like a rollercoaster.”

Write 5 similes about your favourite athletes below. Remember to use the words “like” or “as” in each.

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