This is a fascinating tale, about a fascinating man. R.A. Dickey is much more than a talented pitcher: He is a former English lit college student; he once [attempted to] swim the Missouri [and was partially successful]; and most recently climbed to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, a height of over 19,000 feet, for charity, in an effort to raise awareness and funds to stop human trafficking and prostitution in Mumbai. He is a devout Christian, and though at times less than perfect as a Christian, husband and father, that is no longer the case, and there can be no doubt as to his love for and devotion to his wife [his childhood sweetheart], his children and his God.
Nominally, and obviously, a sports book, this novel is much more than that. To the author’s credit, he names names, and is generous in his praise while being candid in his assessments when circumstances warrant it. In addition to an insider’s view of the game of baseball, there is the occasional quote from ancient Greek or Chinese philosophers. In 2011 he completed his 15th season of professional baseball, in a remarkable story. Despite some horrific abuse suffered when he was eight years old, detailed in the book, he overcame great odds to be where he is today, also detailed in the book.
Full disclosure: This reviewer is a passionate fan of the New York Mets, the team where Mr. Dickey is now a trusted part of the five-man pitching rotation, and I have been a Mets full-season ticket holder for 25 years, attending at least 70 [out of 81] home games each of those years. But my admiration for the author goes beyond the obvious – he is a courageous human being as well, as this book makes clear. Called a “phenom” when he started out, he was the Tennessee State player as a senior in 1993, an All-American at the University of Tennessee and a starter for Team USA in the 1996 Olympics. After playing in the minor leagues over a long period of time, he is offered a signing bonus of $810,000 by the Texas Rangers. It is the realization of his dream. Until he undergoes the routine physical examination required before the contract can be signed, and it is found that he was apparently born without an ulnar collateral ligament – the main stabilizing ligament – in his elbow, and the offer is summarily withdrawn. Ultimately, he signs for $75,000.00. How he proved himself, remained in the major leagues, and became one of the premier – and few – knuckleball pitchers pitching today, is quite a tale.
The book is highly recommended, for readers who are baseball fans certainly, but for those who are not as well. As you can probably tell, I loved it.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2012.