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

vacant houses.

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 thought,

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

under water,

and I was praying to God

to protect my family.

I had come to grips

with dying

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.


2 thoughts on “Knuckleballs

  1. Powerful stuff and what a terrible start in life. Very poetic, as you say, and philosophical, too. Thanks for taking the trouble to transcribe and sharing this with us. I may not be interested in baseball but this is more contemplating life in terms of baseball rather than taking about the game itself.

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