Opportunity knucks: R.A. Dickey ready for a fresh start with Blue Jays
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The whirlwind ride that has been R.A. Dickey's life during the last 12 months put him on a train from New York to Washington on Friday in an attempt to beat the blizzard and catch a flight to join the Toronto Blue Jays in spring training.
Dickey -- the noted knuckleballer, mountain climber, author, 20-game winner, Cy Young Award recipient and centerpiece of a seven-player trade -- went completely unnoticed on the train. Either the scraggly- bearded 38-year-old is as skilled at going incognito as he is with the knuckleball, or others really were focused on their own stuff.
In the last year, there hardly was a more ubiquitous athlete in New York than Dickey. From his soul-searching, bestselling autobiography to his otherworldly season on the mound -- complete with a first-time All-Star selection and NL Cy Young Award -- Dickey and his signature pitch and unique personality captured the hearts of Mets fans and attention of fans of the human condition.
And then he was gone, traded to the newly stacked Blue Jays on Dec. 17 with a three-year, $30-million contract extension in hand.
So there Dickey was Monday morning, reporting to an unfamiliar home clubhouse at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. The journey has been noteworthy. But it is not complete, even if Dickey expects it to slow down some.
Unless, of course, he pitches the way he did last season and leads the Blue Jays to the World Series.
"It's been busy," Dickey said. "But I certainly understand it. Everything has its season, and I know this isn't necessarily going to be what it's going to be like forever. So I can take it in stride. I do feel like it's going to end. I know it is. Thankfully. I know it. I've come from the other place, where it hasn't been so busy. I prefer this. It's much better."
Dickey didn't waste much time getting started. He put on long blue shorts, high blue socks, a gray T-shirt and a Blue Jays cap, then played catch in the outfield with minor-league pitching instructor Dane Johnson under a brilliant sun.
Johnson, a former major-league pitcher, did his best in attempting to box Dickey's knuckleball with a regulation catcher's mitt. After a while, Dickey started to call out his pitches so Johnson would have a chance. You've never seen a man look so relieved when another man yells "fastball" from about 60 feet away.
Dickey then did an interview with the only two Canadian TV reporters on hand -- a further reminder he's not in New York anymore. In New York, a reigning Cy Young winner's first day with the Yankees or Mets would be a heavily attended, full-on media circus. Just ask Randy Johnson, who famously pushed aside a TV camera as he was being chased on a Manhattan street in 2005 after getting traded to the Yankees.
Dickey answered the usual questions about his back story, about his finicky pitch, about his status as baseball's "renaissance" man -- an interviewer's word, not his.
Earlier, Dickey talked of the latest stop, a trip to India with his young daughters last month to work with Bombay Teen Challenge, a Christian charity that fights child sex trafficking. Dickey wrote in his autobiography that he was a victim of sexual abuse as a child.
"I think if I had to nutshell it," Dickey said, his voice growing quiet in the empty locker room, "it's incredible hope and incredible depravity. To try to walk in the middle of both is really something."
Dickey returned about two weeks ago. He went back to New York to pack up his residence there before reports of an impending snowstorm caused him to alter his travel plans.
The journey wasn't what he expected. But Dickey got where he was going just fine. Quietly.