“Knuckleball!’’ a film about the world’s most famously quirky pitch, had its premiere – outdoors! – Saturday night as part of the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival, featuring among others R.A. Dickey, Phil Niekro and Newsday’s own Dave Lennon, who never has thrown a knuckleball professionally.
Did I like it? Yes, but not as much as I would have liked to like it. The film does a fine job profiling in depth Wakefield and Dickey, and conveys the unique, cross-generational fraternity of knuckleballers.
“It’s like coming home and all your brothers are sitting there waiting for you to get there,’’ Dickey said before the screening. “It’s very unique to the pitch.’’
Said Jim Bouton: “We’re sort of the strange guy in the class. We’re not the big strong guy. We’re not the jock. We’re more like the guys interested in geography or science or art.’’
Alas, the intense focus on Wakefield and Dickey gives relatively short shrift to the history of the pitch and to old-timers who are interviewed, such as Bouton, Charlie Hough and Wilbur Wood.
Also disappointing is the mostly serious tone. There are dashes of humor, to be sure, but not as much as you might expect given the pitch in question.
Oh, well. The film certainly is worth a look at one the two remaining screenings this weekend. (It does not have a distribution deal beyond that.)
In any case, Saturday’s outdoor show was a chance for another reunion of the pitch’s close-knit group of practitioners past and present, including Hough, Bouton, Wakefield and the last man standing: Dickey.
“Once he stops throwing it, it might never resurface,’’ Bouton said of Dickey. “I don’t know if anyone will have the patience and attention span to stick with it. You have to be a little nuts to continue throwing a pitch that does not seem to be working.
“I don’t know if kids have the patience for it. All of us threw this pitch hundreds and hundreds of times before it did anything. You can get discouraged. But if you’re half-nuts you continue doing it no matter what.’’
Said Dickey: “It’s a tough thing. It’s a dying art.’’
Why? “First and foremost, there is no scout for any organization looking for the next Hoyt Wilhelm,’’ he said. “They are all looking for the next Justin Verlander. Nobody comes into the league as a knuckleballer. You turn to it because it’s the only thing you have left to hang onto the dream.
“It’s a very difficult craft to hone, to work on, to produce over and over again. It takes a big commitment and a lot of maturity to handle how awful the pitch can be, and how awesome it can be.’’