Not only has it been a better than expected season for the New York Mets but a breakout star has emerged from the team in starting pitcher R.A. Dickey. Dickey made his first All-Star Game appearance on this year and it has been quite a personal adventure for him to get there.
The Texas Rangers drafted Dickey in the first round of the 1996 amateur draft. At that time he was highly-touted coming out of the University of Tennessee throwing 95 miles an hour. However, the Rangers were horrified to discover during a routine physical that Dickey had been born without an ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). Doctors did not know how he even performed simple everyday tasks like turning a door knob never mind throwing a 95 mile an hour fastball.
Dickey did not reach the Major Leagues until 2001 and did not see real playing time until 2003. When he did he had little success. In five seasons with the Rangers his ERA averaged 5.72. After one start for the Rangers in 2006 he was sent down to Triple-A, and did not appear in the pros again until 2008.
While Dickey lingered in the minors he finally sought help for all of the personal problems he was having. He underwent counseling to deal with the sexual abuse he suffered as a child first from a babysitter and then from a teenage neighbor. Growing up he also had to deal with a distant father and alcoholic mother. All of these issues plus his struggling career were also putting a strain on Dickey’s marriage. Overcoming all of this, Dickey now credits his wife, faith, and his knuckleball for turning his life around.
Dickey did not reappear in the majors until 2008 with the Seattle Mariners. He even turned down a $300,000 contract with a professional team in South Korea to keep pursuing his dream of pitching in the majors one more time. It was around that time he started practicing throwing a knuckleball as a last ditch effort to save his career. Despite this, he found no success as mainly a relief pitcher and occasional starter for the Mariners.
In 2009 he pitched for the Minnesota Twins and again found little success. Dickey’s career was thought to be over when the Mets signed him to a minor-league contract in early 2010. He was quickly called up by the Mets in May due to injuries to their other starting pitchers.
With the help of former Mets pitcher Frank Viola Dickey was finally able to perfect his knuckleball this season. Dickey was named to his first All-Star team this season. He is tied with Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez for the National League in wins with 12. Dickey is second in the National League in strikeouts and is fifth in ERA. Currently, Dickey is fifth in all of baseball in walk to strikeout ratio which is practically unheard of for a knuckleball pitcher. Knuckleball pitchers usually have trouble controlling the pitch and throwing it for a strike so often they are near the top of the league in walks and home runs allowed.
With all of his success this season and pitching in an atmosphere like New York ticket demand has gone up for Dickey’s home starts. However, Dickey hasn’t been able to help the Mets improve upon their average home game attendance which is down from last year. One area that has seen a significant increase is television ratings, according to SNY.
Throwing back to back one-hitters, writing a New York Times Best Seller, and winning 10 straight starts has given Mets fans and baseball fans in general something to look forward to seeing on the field during the second half of the season. The good news is ticket costs are still reasonable. However, as the R.A. Dickey story spreads and his performance on the mound possibly increases demand could go up.
Dickey is currently scheduled to start Sunday, July 28 against the Arizona Diamondbacks. ESPN reports Mets manager Terry Collins is strongly considering using R.A. on short rest, who is already scheduled to start again Friday, August 3 against the San Diego Padres. As the Mets fight to stay in playoff contention Dickey is sure to be a pivotal component.
Mets fans will have to wait until August 7 to see the team back at Citi Field when they open up a series against the Miami Marlins, followed by the Atlanta Braves.