I got a guy. This guy, among other things, hands me books every so often. A lot of these books are acquired before their release. I don't know how he gets them, and I don't ask because it's really none of my business. Most of the books he hands me are sports related books, and the same good intentions that roads are paved with are the ones that I have in terms of reading these books. And I still to mean to get to these books, because I've got some good ones.
The other day I was handed an "uncorrected proof" of the new R.A. Dickey book "Wherever I Wind Up; My Quest For Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball", which isn't in stores until March 29th. I knew that this had to move to the top of the line. I was stoked to finally read this book that Dickey had talked about all year, and apparently took five years to write. If R.A. Dickey took that much time to perfect this craft, just as he's taken longer than that to perfect the craft of throwing a knuckleball, then surely it deserved my immediate attention.
We all know Dickey from his post game interviews. Articulate, honest, lacking typical ballplayer clichés ... so I had expected this to be a good read. You probably have the same pre-conceived notions that I did, that this would be a story about overcoming obstacles in baseball to finally reach the summit of the mountain in your mid-30's, a story about never giving up on your dreams and working hard and valuing family and what's important. And in many ways, it was exactly that.
But boy, I wasn't prepared to read what I read in the first fifty pages, let alone the entire book.
And I loved it ... every page of it. Blew through it in two days. Whatever you think you know about R.A. Dickey, you'll read this book and find out that you really had no idea. The struggles he overcame in his baseball world that you can probably imagine doesn't compare to the struggles he overcame in his personal life, including overcoming his own shortcomings as a human being. It's nothing you have imagined, I assure you. As much as this is a story about baseball, and there's plenty of riveting stories involving baseball on and off the field, this is a story about life. It's a story about recognizing who you are, what you're about, and how things that happen in childhood affect you later in life. And not just in isolated incidents, but at every turn, every step, every pitch, and every attempt to swim across the Missouri river.
(You'll like that story.)
What I really appreciated about this book was that it wasn't just a series of stories that say "hey, this is what happened to me, but I overcame it". Dickey really delves into his own psyche here and finds patterns in everything that makes him who he is today, and who he was through the years. They seem isolated and random, but everything took him on a path which almost led to his demise before he learned from it and got to where he is today. Dickey takes us through that entire path and leaves nothing out. And by no means is the story done, which is the best part about his honesty. This isn't a book to tell us that he's reached the top of the mountain. This is a book to tell us that although the worst may be behind him, the journey continues. And there's still places to go, only now those places are less about moving away from things and more about moving towards things ... good things.
And there's no sugar coating anything. He readily admits where he went wrong in his life, down to the minute details of which times he lied to others and lied to himself, and what led him to do that. If there was still an actual quest to find truth and authenticity, he's found it here.
That's not to say you aren't going to appreciate the baseball stuff, which is excellent. From the years of perfecting that knuckleball and the people who helped him with it, to the long hard years in the minor leagues, to his feelings about Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, to what Snoop Manuel once said about him well before he managed him, to things that you and I never knew about certain games last season that we took at face value as games where Dickey just plain stunk (and hilariously, what Aaron Harang had to do with all of this). What struck me in this aspect was a part where Dickey says that none of the people who say that he's a nobody and he's a one-season fluke offends him, that he just wants to change people's minds about the pitch he throws, and about him. When the Mets signed him, I wrote a short little blurb about it with a snarky title ... "Print Those Playoff Tickets" (and if you check that link, do yourself a favor and read the comments, especially the one that says "hey, maybe he'll write a book one day" ... seriously!) With each excellent start that Dickey has provided the Mets, along with each carefully crafted pearl of wisdom that he gives us after the game, and each time R.A. makes it abundantly clear that he takes pride and cares about being a New York Met, I never forgot about the snark I wrote. Every time I think "boy, was I wrong on that one." And yes, I have thought ... man, he's changed my mind. He didn't need a book to do that. He also didn't need a book for me to decide that I would root for this guy blindly even if he went on an Anthony Young type streak. I'll even go so far as to say that even the most ardent of Met haters will read this book and can't help but to root for him if not the team he plays for.
What the book does is give me, and will give you, a stark reminder that sometimes all those bad outings and bad at-bats and year-long struggles have a story behind them that goes beyond the simple refrain of "you suck!" Sometimes, those stories go beyond baseball, and go to places that you could never imagine that they would go. Too often you see book deals for people who haven't written a story worth reading yet, yet write a story to capitalize on the height of popularity. R.A. Dickey has written a story worth reading. He's lived a story worth your attention. This book, this quest, is definitely worth your attention.