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My father-in-law sent me a clipping the other day. It had to do with a professional baseball player.
"Great," I thought. "Another reminder of how some guys have struck it big, while his little angel decided to hook up with a lowly sportswriter."
But, this was not the case. The F-I-L, who really is a good guy, sent me the column as fodder for thought.
Here's my takeaway: Learn how to throw the knuckleball.
The clipping was about R.A. Dickey, the Mets' stellar pitcher. As I write this column, Dickey has a record of 11-1, and stands poised to be the starting pitcher at this year's MLB All-Star Game.
Adding luster to that honor is that the game will be played at the Mets' home stadium (which is named for a bank whose name I don't choose to promote).
The article, by Joshua Gelernter, tells of a man who was a first-round draft pick in 1996. It tells how he was plagued by arm troubles early in his professional career.
The story shares how Dickey bummed around the minors and through life. According to Gelernter:
"One day, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, (Dickey) looked out at the Missouri River and decided to swim across it.
"The Missouri, of course, is a big, strong river, and Dickey was a third of the way across when he realized he wasn't going to make it and would probably drown...He tried to retreat to the shore but got towed under by the current.
"Deep underwater, Dickey began to cry – because his life had been a failure, because he was leaving behind three kids and a wife to whom he had not been a good husband and... he hadn't been a good Christian, either. Then he hit bottom...overcome by a feeling that God was giving him a second chance."
He somehow made it back to shore and used his second chance to fully embrace the power of the knuckleball.
He is now spending his days baffling major league batsmen. In fact, earlier this month, Dickey pitched consecutive one-hitters.
Following one of those one-hitters, the Mets attempted to appeal, hoping that the scorer might change the hit to an error, giving Dickey a no-no.
In classy fashion, Dickey said that he didn't want to get a no-hitter that way; that he felt it would be marked with an asterisk.
Dickey, as best as I can tell, is the only knuckleballer in the majors today. Why is that?
It is a difficult pitch to master. The knuckler sails in at a lethargic 60 miles per hour, or so. Compare that to your typical flame-thrower, who launches the rawhide in the high-90s.
Still, the typical flame-thrower burns out early. Throwing the ball that fast can take its toll.
Meanwhile, Dickey is 37 years old, a Methuselah by baseball standards. Yet, he seems to just now be hitting his prime.
By and large, a fellow can have a nice long career as a knuckleballer and retire with his arm not bearing a resemblance to a limp noodle.
The key thing to note, however, is that your normal pitcher is born with the gift of being able to throw a ball hard. Not many are so blessed.
But a knuckleball pitcher can be cultivated: He only needs to have the gift of dedication.
When I think of the greatest knuckleballers, I think of Wilbur Wood, the Niekro brothers and Hoyt Wilhelm. None of them could be considered world-class in their athleticism.
Now, don't get me wrong. You don't just pick up a baseball and start throwing the knuckler like a pro.
It must be thrown just right. You also have to have a thick skin. In his first major league start, Dickey surrendered an astounding six home runs, tying an MLB record.
That's what happens when the ball doesn't flutter, as a knuckler is designed to do.
But, Dickey has certainly persevered. Now I hold him up as an example of one path to the stardom, fame and fortune of Major League ball.
So, my advice to you is to tell Junior to put down the X-Box, pick up the mitt, and start learning the knuckleball.
Who knows? Someday, your own father-in-law might be sending out clippings about his grandson's exploits with the knuckleball.