I first wrote a piece about RA Dickey back in 2005 mainly because I was impressed what appeared to be baseball smarts and a fledgling knuckleball he used to throw back then that he called the "thing." Dickey struggled a lot after I wrote those words and for a while vanished from the MLB scene. Yet I thought maybe one day he'd be back. I never thought he'd be back with such a vengeance.
I read a lot of baseball books, some for review, some for pleasure, but only a very few of them blow me away. "Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball," written by Dickey and Wayne Coffey, is one of those.
A book like this not surprisingly has a spiritual component and ordinarily if you told me a book had a strong spiritual overtone I'd be very afraid, because those types of books almost always descend into righteousness and evangelicalism, detracting from the story and boring the reader. Yet Dickey, who proves to be both exceptionally literate and a good storyteller manages to tell you about his faith and how it kept him going and does so without that heavy handedness, expressing his faith as his personally and doesn't let it distract from his tale.
While this is a baseball book, it is by no means your prototypical baseball book. It's the autobiography of a man who was a talented athlete who had to reinvent himself over and over again. Not just as a pitcher, but as man.
Rebuilding himself as a man took a group effort, and while Dickey himself did the heavy lifting, it took the support of his wife, family and a psychologist to help him get through. Working through his issues with the help of those who loved him, teammates and fellow knuckleballers all brought him to the point where he could write this book.
It includes his struggles in the minor leagues, the fall from grace from being a first round pick by the Texas Rangers to almost not getting to play baseball. That decision left him and his family with years of financial struggles, lack of job security and mental anguish as he failed to turn those immense physical assets into Major League success.
At least until the day Orel Hershiser suggest that he take the "thing" and become a full time knuckleballer. That required reinventing himself as an athlete. It took years, it took mentorship by the greatest knuckleballers still alive and it was the easy compared to sorting out his emotional scars.
Those scars are deep, and this book, which bares parts of his soul, is part of that healing process. It took years of love, therapy and support before Dickey faced his demons.
Telling us about them is an act of bravery. He grew up with an alcoholic mother, was molested by a female babysitter and was raped by a teenage boy all before he was 10. He was plagued by self doubt and questioned his own worth. Those were secrets he couldn't face, and he had no one he could ask for help in coping with.
Not surprisingly he became a loner, losing himself in athletics and trying to find his own way. This book is the story of his trials and successes, and it's a story that will stick with you.
This one may well be the sports book of the year and while it's not the traditional baseball book in all senses, it's a book that inspires and impresses you with just who R.A. Dickey really is.
AHP Rating: 3 Balls
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Four Balls: An exceptional book that truly earns a walk straight to the local book store to get a copy.
Three Balls: This book stands out from its peers and is highly recommended.
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One Ball: This book has something to say but is nothing special.
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