Jan. 20, 2012
BY BRIAN RICE
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- From his time at Tennessee 16 years ago to his current spot in the New York Mets' starting rotation, R.A. Dickey's baseball journey has led him all around the country. His journey back to Knoxville to be inducted in the Tennessee Baseball Hall of Fame seemed like it took almost as long.
On Wednesday, Dickey made his first trip back to Knoxville since 1998 - a period he admitted was "embarrassingly too long" - less than 24 hours after landing back in the United States and his home in Nashville from a venture to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Dickey made the climb to benefit Bombay Teen Challenge, helping raise over $100,000 for the organization, which works to increase awareness and assists victims of sex trafficking in India.
Much like his trip to the peak of the mountain was done as a selfless act to benefit a larger cause, Dickey was quick to give others the credit for his Hall of Fame honor.
"It's really nice to be recognized as a great player at Tennessee," Dickey said, "but at the same time, I'm certainly aware that I am no more than the product of people that poured into me well and loved on me well while I was here, two of them being Bill Mosiello and Dave Serrano. I think whatever level of talent I brought into UT from high school, they cultivated it into this honor. It is as much their award as it is mine."
Mosiello and Serrano both coached Dickey during his time at UT, and have reunited this season in Knoxville, Serrano's first as Tennessee head coach. But Serrano wasn't interested in taking credit for Dickey's honor.
"That's R.A.," Serrano said. "I appreciate his humility, but he's well-deserving and it's well overdue."
During the induction ceremony on Wednesday, Dickey recalled one of his biggest moments at Tennessee. A video montage, complete with Mike Keith and John Wilkerson's call, showed the final pitch of Dickey's 11-inning performance against Oklahoma State in that clinched the Vols' first trip to the College World Series since 1951.
"Dave (Serrano) said something up here that was really profound, `Win the next pitch,'" Dickey said, referencing Serrano's motto for the 2012 Vols. "I was so invested in every pitch, that's all I cared about. How can I live the next two minutes well? How can I perform with this pitch, and when that's over, that's where I was."
Focusing on the next pitch is something that has allowed the 37-year old Dickey to go on as a professional pitcher, despite challenges and changes in his career.
A first-round draft pick in 1996, Dickey made his Major League debut in 2001. But after finishing with a 6-7 record and a 5.61 ERA in 2004, he appeared in just 10 games over the next two seasons and was out of the majors in 2007.
That season, spent in his hometown of Nashville with the Triple-A Sounds of the Milwaukee Brewers organization, was different for another reason - Dickey reinvented himself as a knuckleball pitcher.
Earlier in his career, Dickey was a hard-throwing, power pitcher, mixing in a forkball that moved significantly. With the velocity on his fastball slowing down, turning his forkball into a knuckleball held the possibility of one more shot in the big leagues.
"Having the aptitude to own the things you don't do well and try to recognize that and get better from them has been a big deal in my career," Dickey said. "Self-awareness has been a part in that, being able to realize that being a conventional pitcher no longer was going to work for me, so I really had to embrace the knuckleball completely."
His pursuit of the knuckleball led Dickey to consult with some of the most successful players to ever utilize the pitch at the highest level.
"I went and worked with Charlie Hough, Phil Neikro and Tim Wakefield, three of the best knuckleballers to ever walk the planet," he said. "I tried to gain any wisdom I could from those guys, and they were very generous with it. It's another situation where guys leveraged themselves to help me, and I'm incredibly grateful for that."
The transformation impressed many in the game, including former Phillies and Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who worked with Dickey while both were with the Texas Rangers organization in the early 2000s and went on to manage Wakefield for eight years in Boston.
"I knew R.A. from my days in Texas, and you're not going to find a nicer kid," Francona said. "It's a great story. He's persevered through arm injuries, he's been a knuckleballer, a regular pitcher, and he's found a way to be really good.
"I think it comes back to the old adage, good things happen to good people."