This afternoon in the car I listened to a radio interview with knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey. Although I’m not interested in baseball, I made myself stay with it, as I might make myself eat spinach. I always think it is good for me to examine what it is I reject out of hand.
I was taken with him, though, and especially with his knuckleball descriptions. They were as much poetry as any poem. When I returned home, I listened again to the interview and transcribed certain parts.
At least it was a loneliness of my choosing
A knuckleball is like trying to hit a butterfly in a typhoon.
It’s impossible to throw a knuckleball on the outside corner.
You just simply get it started in the right direction
at the right height and
the ball is going to do what
the ball is going to do.
It comes in like a buck-toothed termite trying to saw through that wood.
With most knuckleballers
the velocity is anywhere from
62 to 69 miles an hour but
my knuckleball is anywhere
from 69 to 81.
You have an angry knuckleball.
I start my knuckleball about two balls above
the catcher’s helmet.
If I throw a 100 in a game I want
85 to be knuckleballs
and the other 15 will be
sliders, fastballs, curveballs, change-ups.
What have you.
Your dad left your mom early.
And your mom had a drinking problem
and used to take you to a bar called Joe’s Village Inn
when you were eight years old
you were abused by a babysitter and then more brutally
by a 17-year-old boy.
You went to live with your dad, I guess.
In your teenage years. Right?
Because your mom’s drinking was becoming more apparent to you,
and we should say that she’s been in recovery now
for many years,
and that’s great.
Yeah, she’s great.
But that was a rough time for you.
When you began sleeping in
What made you do that?
How did you figure out
where to go?
It was lonely at home.
I would go into the library and look at the classified ads.
I would tell my Dad I was spending the night out.
I would find a vacant home,
and there was always a key
under a mat or under a flower pot
or something like that,
and I would just let myself in.
We always stayed at this hotel. It overlooked the Missouri River.
For years I would wonder,
Can anybody swim across that?
I’m gonna do it.
I’ve spent a lifetime not taking any risks.
My teammates got out there.
They watched me get down into the shallows of
the Missouri before
I took off and tried to traverse it.
It’s a big, fast-moving river. What happened?
Well, it’s big, it’s dirty, it’s fast moving.
Come to find out it has a significant undertow
and all of a sudden the river
swept me very far down, and my teammates
who were once standing right in front of me
at six feet tall
just looked like little ants
on the horizon.
I’m thinking I have a zero shot at getting to the other side.
And I know at that point it’s going to be a fight just to stay alive.
Every stroke was a determined stroke,
and I had given myself over to the fact that
this was it.
You know, I wasn’t gonna make it.
And I closed my eyes and started to sink.
I remember the sensation of weeping
and I was praying to God
to protect my family.
I had come to grips
and I started sinking
and right as I was about to open my mouth and
take in all of this water just to end it
my feet hit the bottom of the river and I surged up
and I survived.