Tonawanda News

May 5, 2013

BOOK NOOK: R.A. Dickey's autobiography a must-read

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — On March 29th, 2012, one day after the start of Major League Baseball's 2012 season, famed knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey became a published author. The release of his autobiography, “Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball” would spark a national promotional tour, as the pitcher/author showed up for appearances ranging from local book stores to Comedy Central's “The Daily Show.”

Written with the help of New York Daily News reporter Wayne Coffey, “Wherever I Wind Up” details the overwhelming struggles Dickey faced from childhood up until the start of the 2012 season. An epilogue was later added for the paperback addition, touching on the pitcher's Cy Young award-winning 2012 season (an award signifying the best season-long pitching performance in the league.) 

Dickey's story is gripping, emotional and powerful. Sexually abused by his babysitter at the age of eight, and again later that year by a 17-year-old stranger, Dickey would spend the better part of his life coping with the experiences, as his father grew more and more distant following a divorce and his mother slipped into alcoholism. 

The autobiography details how Dickey used the strict rules and boundaries of the private school he attended, along with the love and care of a select group of teachers and coaches, to stabilize himself as a child. Focusing on sports as an escape from his past, Dickey would go on to become a top five college prospect for the major leagues, before tragedy would strike again.

R.A. Dickey explains in his story how after being drafted in the big leagues, he was quickly released after medical tests unveiled that the pitcher was missing an important ligament in his arm. His life soon spiraled back out of control, and his major league dreams seemed all but lost, until he discovered his redeeming ticket: the knuckleball pitch. 

Dickey studied English lit in college, and has said had he not made the big leagues, he would have pursued a career as an English teacher/professor. While the book was guided along by \ Coffey, Dickey's literary prowess shines in his book — autobiographies with the written quality of “Wherever I Wind Up” are rare, as Dickey's writing stays sparse yet eloquent throughout. The story of Dickey's life is enough to get you hooked — the way Dickey is able to write about it so simply, and yet so beautifully, is what keeps you on board until the last page. 

“Wherever I Wind Up” tells the story of the knuckleballer's life in chronological order, but chapters are split up with brief interludes detailing the pitcher's 2011 season as it is occurring. These blips are a refreshing dose of current baseball lore and help enrich the book's reading experience. While newer fans of baseball or Dickey himself may be slow to recognize the names dropped in the main text, the flashes of the 2011 season help to piece together old with new. A relevant, interesting set of photos is also included in the middle of the book. 

Perhaps what makes Dickey's biography so interesting is the unique perspective from which it was written. While the pitcher had a few brief stints in the major leagues, it wasn't until he began taking his knuckleball seriously — a zany, wild pitch that flutters unpredictably at slow speeds — that he was able to establish himself on a major league team. The unique thing is, Dickey didn't start practicing and honing in on the pitch until he was in his 30s. 

For the majority of athletes, hitting the 30-year-old mark is never good. It is most commonly a sign of declining athleticism, a marker signifying there's not much time left to win a championship before retirement. For Dickey, his 30s turned out to be just the opposite. Rejuvenated by his new pitch, Dickey would sign his first ever long-term major league contract at age 36. At 37, he won the Cy Young.

“Wherever I Wind Up” is much more than a fun read for sports fans. It's an autobiography that should be read by everyone, no matter their background. It's a story of extreme adversity and one man's ability to overcome it. Dickey is the prototypical American hero, and a shining beacon of the tremendous things we can all accomplish with diligence, perseverance and a pure love for something bigger than ourselves. It's a must read.

• WHAT: "Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball" • BY: R.A. Dickey • GRADE: A

Dean Goranites publishes weekly video book reviews at unleashthis.tumblr.com, and can be reached through Twitter at unleash_this.