Talking ‘Knuckleball’ and life with R.A. Dickey!

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I’m always cognizant of how lucky I am to be doing what I do for a living, but sometimes, to be frank, I have the best job on the planet. Early yesterday was one such day, as I was lucky enough to be among the limited non-sports press to be invited to chat with New York Mets player R.A. Dickey. For those of you who don’t know anything about him, he’s a pitcher for the Mets who utilizes a very rare pitch called the knuckleball. Dickey literally is a real life fairy tale, and the embodiment of hope and perseverance. He’s currently actually the only pitcher in baseball who throws the pitch and was one of the subjects of the documentary ‘Knuckleball!’ this year (my review of which can be found here). He’s one of my very favorite individuals in sports, and just a few days ago he was awarded the Cy Young, which is a prize given to the best pitcher in the league. It’s a great moment in sports, and as a diehard Met fan this was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.

Joey Magidson: First of all, hi! How are you doing?

R.A. Dickey: Good Joey, thanks.

Joey: I’ll freely admit that I don’t usually get nervous, but I’m making an exception in your case.

R.A.: Ah, don’t be nervous.

Joey: So, besides everything else, I have to say congratulations. As a 25 year old lifelong Met fan, it is shockingly rare that I have something to be proud of in this way, and I think that besides just being an amazing baseball accomplishment, that when you take into account your story it just becomes a real amazing human achievement.

R.A.: Well, I appreciate that, and I’m sad to say that I completely empathize with your disappointment. As bad as you feel as a Met fan, I feel equally as bad that we haven’t performed better over the last few years.

Joey: Yea, you know being a Met fan is special. I’m a diehard though, and it’s a family experience. My parents might be ashamed to admit it, but my dad has a shirt with your name on it.

R.A.: (Laughs hard) Well I’m honored. Thank you!

Joey: The documentary that was made, ‘Knuckleball!’ which I loved…

R.A.: Thank you, I loved it too…

Joey: I see a lot of documentaries every year and by and large they’re all downers, so it was nice to see a happy documentary about success, especially when you think about the subject and how it doesn’t lend itself to success. Anyone who has a working knowledge of the history of the knuckleball, it’s not something associated with great success, but here’s a documentary about the most successful people ever to throw the pitch.

R.A.: Yea, when they approached me to do it I didn’t really know what to expect. The thing that separates this from what what other people would have done is that Anne Sundberg and Ricki Stern both had the vision to tell a story, not just make an educational video about the knuckleball, they were interested in telling a story, and I was in on that. Now, if they had come to me with the treatment, Christine Schomer wrote the treatment, and said to me that they saw this as being, you know, explaining the knuckleball and showing people striking out against the knuckleball, I wouldn’t have signed up for it, but they were interested in telling a story, and that’s what the knuckleball is. It’s a story in itself, the ups and downs, the curves, and turns, that’s what we’ve all probably experienced. I mean, none of us jettisoned ourselves to the big leagues as a knuckleballer. We simply had to learn it and grind it out, figure out another way, and reinvent ourselves. That’s what the documentary is about, it’s about rediscovery, it’s about the chance at redemption, it’s about all these things that make life worth living and that’s what’s fun about the documentary.

Joey: It’s just great. What was the filming process like? They follow you for a while, so what was it like having to go about your job and deal with camera crews in a new way?

R.A.: Well, yea, you know from the performance standpoint, the truth of it is that any good documentary is going to be somewhat of an inconvenience, that’s just the way it is. It can’t be great 100% of the time because it’s unscripted, it’s life, so there were times along the process where it was trying and I didn’t want to get on the camera and talk about how I felt about just getting beat or talk about my story, I just wanted to get back to the hotel and go to sleep. The truth of the matter is, to tell a good story, which is what we’re doing, not to make an oxymoron, but they have a delicate way of being forceful, and they knew when to push or pull back. It was hard, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly hard and it became at some point the white noise of what you have to deal with as a competitor, so it wasn’t much of an intrusion.

Joey: It definitely had to be different to talk with them on a different level than the media. This is a lot more personal than New York Baseball writers. I love them, but the questions do tend to be about being the Marlins or losing to the Phillies.

R.A.: (laughing) yea, yea, that’s right…

Joey: They can’t really take the long view, whereas a documentary can.

R.A.: I completely agree. It’s tough on the writers, they have a little bit of space, you know 800 words, and they need to tell a good story too.

Joey: Not to embarrass you, but there’s probably going to be another story about you on the big screen in a couple of years…

R.A.: (laughing)

Joey: The script just keeps getting better and we’ve got Josh Hamilton’s story coming, so I think you’re next. Josh Hamilton and you are the two best stories in sports now, and translating them to film. I mean, if I pitched this story to studios I think I’d get laughed at. That being said, who would you like to see play you?

R.A.: Oh, I don’t know man, I haven’t given it any thought. The thing I’m appreciative of though about this story and this life journey is that it’s so much bigger than me. This is, it feels like it transcends me, it transcends just the boundaries of baseball, and that’s what makes it appealing, and that’s what makes it connect with people. If the story helps people identify with their own story in some way, you’ve connected with them, and I feel that this story has a lot of that in a lot different places.

Joey: Definitely.

R.A.: You know, my hope is that it offers hope, that’s my hope. My hope is that my story offers hope. I think that cast the right way and written the right way it could really lend itself to doing that, a story of redemption, I think that could be really neat. I don’t know who would play me though. (Laughs) I don’t really give it much thought.

Joey: I hope they approach you in some way. Even kust talking about it in the present, I think it’s got an added bit of emotion in that it’s a New York stories. New York stories don’t tend to be about hope. You know, it’s a tough place. I’ve lived here all my life…

R.A.: Yea?

Joey: Yup, and it’s not a place that easily lends itself to a happy ending, and in your case things just keep getting better, and as a Met fan I really want that to continue. Please tell Sandy Alderson (the Mets General Manager) to sign you!

R.A.: (Laughs)

Joey: I think everyone has embraced this story. I don’t think anyone isn’t rooting for you, and it only helps the way that you’ve handled it and the engaging personality that you are. Not many people can also reference climbing a mountain for charity this past year like you did.

R.A: Well, thank you for saying that. I appreciate it.

Joey: It’s just amazing.

R.A.: I really appreciate that.

(The PR rep then let us know that it was about to be the last question)

Joey: I’ll end things on a lighter note, no more inflection related…what’s your favorite movie of all time?

R.A.: Oh man, that’s a hard one. Can I give you a few?

Joey: Sure…

R.A.: Okay, in the sporting genre I’m a big fan of ‘The Natural’ and ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’. Of course, people know me for my love of ‘Star Wars’, I’m a nerd when it comes to that, and I really enjoy being a nerd in that regard. Just epics like that, ‘The Lord of The Rings’, I love that. Um, I have a lot of movies man, I have a big pallet. You know, I have a taste for a lot things because I feel I can learn a lot of things, since I don’t have to like something to appreciate it. There are certain things that I really appreciate about things I don’t like, so I just have a big pallet.

Joey: Awesome, and we have a new ‘Star Wars’ movie coming…

R.A.: Oh, I know it, I know it! I have all sorts of feelings about that. I’m afraid they’re going to mess up the franchise and blow it by making it corny.

Joey: I’m cautiously optimistic. It depends on who they get to direct it.

R.A.: Yea, exactly. I don’t know, I’ll be tracking it.

Joey: I’ve been writing about it all week! They’ve got Michael Arndt writing it, and he’s great.

R.A.: Yea, he’s good.

Joey: They’re off to a good start, but I’m about to be yelled at, so once again…thank you. A pleasure

R.A.: You’re welcome.

Joey: A red letter date in my short life, and I look forward to watching you pitch this season.

R.A.: Thank you!

Joey: My pleasure.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!