R.A. Dickey has survived the perils of an unstable childhood, hiked Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money to aid sex trafficking victims in India, and salvaged his baseball career by learning to master the difficult art of throwing the knuckleball.
Learning to gracefully pull on the new jersey of the Toronto Blue Jays, that might take a bit of time.
That was Dickey’s only misstep on Tuesday when the 38-year-old made his first public appearance in Toronto since being traded to the American League team in a blockbuster deal last month with the New York Mets.
And even then the 38-year-old displayed the sharp sense of humour that made him a fan favourite in New York as he struggled to pull on a white Blue Jays uniform, bearing the No. 43, over a bulky sweater that he wore to his news conference.
“What’s the joke – how many people does it take to put on a uniform?” Dickey cracked to the standing room only gathering at Rogers Centre.
The arrival in Toronto of Dickey, who won the Cy Young Award for the Mets in 2012 as the best pitcher in the National League, has the city talking about the World Series again.
Dickey will be the cornerstone of a revamped Blue Jays starting rotation that will also feature Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, two brand-name hurlers that Toronto received in another huge deal with the Miami Marlins.
Throw in all-star shortstop Jose Reyes and speedy outfielder Melky Cabrera for good measure and it is no wonder the Las Vegas bookies have already installed Toronto as the early favourites to win the World Series.
Dickey, who hails from Nashville, said that was the primary reason he quickly decided to sign a two-year, $25-million (all currency U.S.) contract extension with the Blue Jays that was contingent on the trade with the Mets going through.
He said he has totally bought in to the vision presented to him by Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos to restore some punch to a baseball organization that has withered since 1993 when Joe Carter’s famous home run last captured the Blue Jays the World Series.
“I watched it on TV, literally, as Joe Carter hit that ball out and the place just go wild,” Dickey said. “And just seeing the energy of this community get behind the Toronto Blue Jays, and to think that could happen again, is so exciting.”
As you can gather, Dickey is not your average run-of-the-mill jock who speaks in tired clichés.
He became a celebrity during his three years in New York and made television appearances on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and with David Letterman on The Late Show.
Currently a camera crew from the U.S. television news program 60 Minutes is trailing Dickey around for a featured segment to be aired in March.
Early last year Dickey published his memoir, Wherever I Wind Up, where he wrote of a difficult childhood that included sexual abuse.
He also successfully reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, part of an effort to raise money and awareness for the Bombay Teen Challenge, an organization dedicated to helping victims of sex trafficking in India.
Dickey said he will soon be returning to India with his two older daughters help open a new clinic with the funds he raised during his mountain hike.
“They’re opening a clinic that was once a brothel, so it’s incredibly poetic,” Dickey said.
Dickey said his personal life has echoed his professional life as a baseball player where he also had to reinvent himself and learn to throw the knuckleball, a pitch that salvaged his career.
“As I got better at growing into a human being I got better as a baseball player,” he said.
Dickey said he envisions a great chemistry as the Blue Jays come together as a unit.
“I think what you really need in any winning environment are people that take ownership,” he said. “So this isn’t my team, this isn’t Mark Buehrle’s team, this isn’t Brett Lawrie’s team. We all need to take a piece of ownership with this.
“And that’s how you can create a culture that not only wins now but can win in the future.”