“No one grows up wanting to be a knuckleball pitcher,” is a quote from the memoir of New York Mets starting pitcher R.A. Dickey. Wherever I Wind Up (Penguin/Blue Rider Press) is a book about personal strength, redemption, and the discovery of one’s faith. Dickey was an English Literature major at the University of Tennessee and wrote the book with the help of New York Daily News reporter Wayne Coffey.
Wherever I Wind Up starts off with the story of how his signing bonus of $810k was taken away after an evaluation found that he didn’t have an ulna collateral ligament. The doctors were baffled that he could even turn a doorknob without being in pain. The signing bonus was reduced to 75k and was sent to low-level minor league affiliate of the Texas Rangers. This was one the first obstacles that Dickey had to overcome. The book goes from self-deprecating humor to some dark moments of his life.
You could be asking yourself, “Why would a journeyman pitcher get a book deal?” It would be easy to dismiss a book written by a journeyman baseball pitcher. Would this book be a copy of Jim Bouton’s Ball Four? Bouton was also a knuckleball pitcher, but Dickey didn’t name many names of his fellow teammates. Wherever I Wind Up is about a personal struggle to succeed. You could take the baseball out of this book and the message would still be the same. It would be a perfect book to give a recent high school or college graduate.
Dickey was raised by an alcoholic mother and an absent father. He nearly had his hopes of becoming a pitcher destroyed after being picked in the first-round in the amateur draft. He spent a large portion of his career in the minor leagues and changed to a knuckleball after losing velocity on his fastball. He had a forkball in his arsenal and was told that it was just a “fast knuckleball.” He started to perfect a knuckleball pitch and was only throwing it for less than a year when he was called up by the Texas Rangers. He found out that his new pitch was not ready for the Majors. He gave up six home runs in his first three innings, tying a record of ‘most home runs given up in pitching debut,’ he shares this with fellow knuckleballer, Tim Wakefield. He spent the next few years in the Rangers’ minor-league system. It was around this time that Dickey started to have suicidal thoughts.
He is extremely candid about being sexually abused as an eight-year old and once again when he was in the fourth grade. It was a demon that started to slowly destroy himself from the inside-out. He found his faith at this time and started to heal his demons with the Bible.
Dickey struggled with his identity and eventually hit his stride in 2007. He was named the Pacific Coast League’s ‘Pitcher of the Year’ in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. He started to get a few starts in the Majors with the Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners. It wasn’t until he was signed by the Mets that he stuck with a team and had success at the highest level.
The 37-year old is currently an entrenched starter on the New York Mets. His knuckleball is moving and by further perfecting that pitch, he could add up to ten years onto his professional career. He admits that he still feels a lot of pressure to pitch his best. A bad start could be one step closer to either being sent back to the minors or hanging up his cleats.
Dickey has come to grips that he will never lead the league in strikeouts or end up in The Baseball Hall of Fame, but he is in a good place right now and that is all that matters.
Wherever I Wind Up is a telling tale of redemption. Dickey is living proof of a person living his dream…even if he has to throw an ugly knuckleball to make his dream come true.