There are not too many professional ahletes, maybe none, that over the course of a single 40-minute press conference can use the words neophyte, metamorphosis and Zen. And those were just several of the highlights from the first live press briefing for R.A. Dickey as he met the local baseball media for the first time since the trade on December 17.
Dickey, who redeemed his career and mastered the knuckleball at an advanced age, has posted three solid seasons in a row and has emerged as an unlikely star and Cy Young Award winner. GM Alex Anthopoulos compares the experience of pursuing and trusting in Dickey to when he inked Jose Bautista long-term. The 38-year-old righthander looks like a younger version of the guy from the Dos Equis beer ads, the guy they call Most Interesting Man in the World -- only Dickey is far more interesting.
Dickey was introduced on Tuesday in the interview room across the hall from the Jays' home clubhouse at the Rogers Centre. He reminded one of a more sincere Bill Lee, only less glib and off the cuff, sobered by life experiences that have shaped who he is.
Dickey co-authored his autobiography last year with Wayne Coffey. It was titled Wherever I wind Up. In it he allowed himself to admit to some horrific childhood experiences. He bared his soul on many of his most personally terrifying and testing moments, as well as his personal failings in a relationship with his wife that has become stronger through catharsis. He claimed early on in his press introduction that writing the book was a very tough process that allowed him to overcome feelings of "fear, apprehension and anxiety."
In hindsight, maybe this whole metamorphosis thing into a star would not have been possible without the other bad stuff he has gone through. Maybe even imagining a successful knuckleballer in his early 20s is impossible. Maybe you need failure and you need to have overcome the lowest of the low moments away from the diamond to be able to stand out on the mound facing the game's best hitters, Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera, armed with just a 72 m.p.h. pitch that you are hoping does not rotate or will be crushed.
No longer having any fear of failure because of what your life has taken you through may be the only way that you, as a pitcher can stand up to that challenge. That's why you can't just have a 20-something guy like Brett Cecil walk up and say "Teach me the knuckleball."
"I think that's one of the reasons," Dickey said upon reflection. "Learning to pitch. I'll never forget being on the mound as a knuckleballer throwing a 71 mile-an-hour mediocre knuckleball facing Vladimir Guerrero and thinking to myself, you better be quick as a cat to get out of the way.
"I was at the stage in my career where I was throwing and just hoping. Please be a strike. Please knuckle. It wasn't a very confident knuckleball. I was a neophyte. But as I have grown, it's been a real educaton, an experience. I get out there now and I expect them to not hit it. That's the mentality that I have now. That's part of the metamorphosis."
Dickey is highly unusual for a professional athlete, not just physically, born as he was with no ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, but emotionally and philosophically.
Consider the reason that Dickey did not hold out for more money from the Jays than he was being offered by the Mets, a total of three years for $30 million, even though others with lesser credentials like Anibal Sanchez were getting more money this winter, may have had something to do with this statement regarding his attitude towards money.
"My wife (Anne) and I have always tried to live below our means."
The truth is that Dickey, given good health (and we know he's not going to need Tommy John surgery), could become more popular than any pitcher in Blue Jays' club history. The thing about baseball that always made it America's Pastime was that it was a sport for everyman. Normal sized fans could always dream of playing baseball because it was forever populated by normal-sized people. Think about David Wells popularity. Matt Stairs.
Basketball was the land of the giants. Football was the land of the behemoths. Even the skating, stickhandling and shooting skills of NHL stars are far beyond what the majority of fans in this hockey-crazed nation are capable of.
But watching R.A. Dickey pitch is different. Fans on opening day vs. the Indians on April 2 will watch as he befuddles hitters with pitches being served up at speeds that any fan knows he could throw. It will soon make him a local sports legend if he can come close to a fourth solid year in a row for his new team.
"If I keep myself involved in the process I believe the results will come," Dickey insisted of his casual attitude towards ever gaining another Cy. "It's a process. I am looking to throw 120 pitches, 120 separate commitments, 120 separate challenges."
Prior to the 2012 season, last January, Dickey irritated Mets management by taking a risk in fulfilling a promise to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. He had over $100,000 in pledges for the climb to raise money for Bombay Teen Challenge, a group that tries to rescue women from sexual slavery in the red-light district of Mumbai.
Dickey keeps his promises. He will finish that phase of his life, that promise to help others, he will finish up after the 2013 season, when he takes his wife and his two girls to India, to a Mumbai clinic that used to be a brothel. That will end that journey for him and he will likely move on to another worthy project.
This guys is different. This guy is good. Jays fans will embrace him for his personality, for everything that he is and the values that he has.
That guy from the Dos Equis ads may soon have to take a back seat.