Some pitchers turn to coaches or veterans for tips. R.A. Dickey turns to his mother-in-law.
She’s the one who pointed him to a glass file, a more refined tool than a standard emery board for shaping his nails. As a knuckleballer, Dickey’s fingernails are the point of contact with the baseball so it’s important that he keeps his tips in top shape.
“I have a special file I use,” Dickey said. “An emery board will leave a lot of snags and fraying of the nail. I need a real clean edge, so I use a glass file.”
All this attention to fingernails. It’s just another case of mani being mani.
“One of the sides is the perfect texture to be able to eliminate all of that fray,” Dickey said of the glass file. “I don’t have an electronic buffer. I don’t trust anyone else with it. I do it myself.”
He had to do some quick filing during his last start when it was disrupted by a split nail on his right index finger. While the condition – Dickey felt silly calling it an “injury” – caused him to alter his throwing routine between starts, he expects to have no issues with it when he is scheduled to start the first game of Thursday's single-admission doubleheader against the Rockies.
Early in his outing against the Nationals, the nail caught on a seam during a pitch and split. He decided to file it down below the crack between innings.
“It was a situation that definitely altered the feel of the pitch during the game, but it was something I felt like if I was proactive with it would be fine,” he said. “I had to file it low, which is why I lost the feel of it that outing. But fortunately it was the right move.”
Dickey is 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA but has never faced the Rockies in his career.
For a knuckleballer, having nail trouble during a game is something like a flame thrower feeling a pinch in his elbow or shoulder.
“It was just scary in the sense that in five years of throwing a knuckleball, I can’t remember another time where that’s happened, so I didn’t know how to go forward,” he said.
Dickey pointed out that his nail is now as long and as smooth as he needs it to be. It requires some maintenance, he said, but it’s not an all-consuming effort.
“I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time in the week on them,” he said. “If they’ve gotten too long and they’re prone to bending, then I’ll file them down a little bit. If they’re too short, I won’t file them at all. It’s all about feel. I’ll have a ball near me and I’ll just play with it and (say) ‘That feels right, that doesn’t feel right’ or notice my nail is bending so I’ll need to file it a little short. There’s nothing profound that I do.”
As for the woman who introduced him to the glass file?
“It’s what a good mother-in-law is for,” he said.