LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA.—The four-year Blue Jays tenure of veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey ended with a bittersweet feel last October. He was not included on the 2016 post-season roster and the writing was on the wall.
Now, the Nashville native is in a better place, signing a one-year contract with the Braves as they open a new stadium looking for a short-term rotation bridge to the future.
“It’s as close to home as I can get, which is a real blessing for me and my family,” Dickey said. “I grew up a Braves fan. I got TBS as a kid, so all the ’80s and early ’90s Braves teams, I could tell you every player that played. They were interested in me very early in the off-season and it made sense. So here I am.”
The AL East was not a friendly place for a fly-ball pitcher like Dickey who relies on the capricious nature of a trick pitch. The parks are smaller. The hitters are stronger. The payrolls are mostly at the luxury-tax end of the spectrum. He has obviously thought about this a lot since he left, even coming up with a solid analogy.
“It was like being in a heavyweight boxing match where you survived all the rounds, you didn’t get knocked out,” Dickey said, sounding like a Nashville George Chuvalo. “You survived all the rounds, but you were pretty beaten up. And that’s what you have to accept when you’re in that (division). That’s part of it. That’s part of the gamesmanship, the preparation and the mental side of it. You know that going in. It wasn’t anything I didn’t expect, but it was a lot of hard competition.”
Dickey’s T.O. time had run its course, although if you were to show Jays fans his statistics from 2013-16 many would be surprised at how solid they were. The 42-year-old right-hander averaged 12.3 victories, 30.5 starts and 206 1/3 innings per season and was never on the disabled list, given he had no elbow ligament. Nevertheless, his style of pitching, and seeming to struggle holding leads, was frustrating.
“I can certainly be empathetic with the fan that would be frustrated by my style of pitching,” Dickey admitted. “I get frustrated by my style of pitching a lot, so I can imagine how they might feel. But at the same time, sometimes it can look really, really ugly, but at the end of all things you look back and you see this body of work that’s acceptable and beyond mediocre. So, I think that I was much better than being just average in the AL East.”
It wasn’t just fans who were sometimes frustrated by Dickey. Manager John Gibbons would often stroll to the mound to replace the durable right-hander, with more than the occasional glare from Dickey as he handed him the ball and walked away. Both men insist there are no lingering bad feelings at the end of the day.
“We had our dust-ups a little bit,” Gibbons said. “It doesn’t happen with everybody, but it’s not unusual. I had them with a few guys. We left on good terms and I respect what he did. He answered the bell for four straight years and gave us a lot of quality innings and won some big ball games for us.”
One of the lingering mysteries surrounding Dickey and the Rogers Centre was always: Did he want the roof open or closed? Which condition worked best with his knuckler? He could look good or bad either way. With Dickey in the other league and forever outdoors, he felt freed up to answer that burning question.
“I used to be pretty adamant that it needed to be closed,” Dickey began. “But part of the growth was that I had some really, really good games with the roof open and learned that that really had much more to do with the guy throwing the baseball than the roof being open or closed, or the wind being in my face or behind. Although that does affect it, I know how to manage that kind of stuff. Either way ended up being fine, but I started out wanting it closed every outing.”
No, there is no doubt that Dickey found the best landing spot. He is in the NL East, without a designated hitter and the relentless lineups of the AL East. One of the best fielding pitchers in baseball now has a chance to put his athleticism on display.
“I am looking forward to facing a pitcher that’s swinging the bat, much more than (I am) swinging the bat,” Dickey joked. “But I enjoy being an athlete. I’ve always enjoyed being an athlete. To get to run the bases and swing the bat and bunt, and have an effect outside of the mound on your own game, is fun for me.”
There is another difference for Dickey in Atlanta. The Braves don’t believe in a personal catcher and, thus, feel Josh Thole won’t be needed to guide him through games. It’s veteran Kurt Suzuki working with him for now. They have all spring to figure that out.
“What the Toronto organization gave up for me (sending Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud to the Mets in 2012) was quite a bit, so I came with a lot of expectations,” Dickey summarized. “As a player you take a lot of pride in wanting to be worth it, wanting to be worth the investment . . . because I care. I really care.
“I learned a lot about leadership. I learned a lot about adversity. I learned a lot about how to manage expectation.”
The bottom line is Dickey takes pride in his four years, pointing out the Jays advanced to the ALCS twice. Now, at 42, he faces new challenges in a new city.
Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.