Thursday, September 16, 2010

Toeing the Rubber for Everyman

If you are a fan of the baseball team that plays its home games in Flushing, Queens then this season has been (much like the several that immediately preceded it) the season of your discontent. Whether attributable to bad luck, bad management, bad play or a combination thereof (as a Yankees fan I tend to think the utterly classless way they fired Willie Randolph a few years back has a little something to do with it), again this season Flushing has borne a striking resemblance to Mudville. Both are towns bereft of joy.

As a general rule, when your star reliever has accumulated more criminal charges than saves in a season you have a pretty good sense that things are not going to be going your way. Add to that the fact that a number of the players upon whom the Mets pinned their hopes for contention this season have been either injured, traded or exiled and you have a recipe for a season that ended short of expectations. Whether those expectations were grounded in fact or in gossamer is a conversation for another day.

Yet because baseball is such a maddeningly beautiful game, it has this season permitted a rose to grow from the midst of the Mets' crab grass patch. R.A. Dickey is thirty-five years old. He shall turn 36 in late October. Dickey is a professional pitcher. According to the baseball-reference.com website, Dickey first pitched in the Bigs way back when in Aught-One as a member of the Texas Rangers. In his first shot at the majors, he pitched in four games, earned one decision (a loss) and a trip back to the minor leagues. He made it back to the Rangers in Aught-Three. Since the start of the decade of the Aughts - this season not included - Dickey had pitched in the Major Leagues for three different teams (Texas, Minnesota and Seattle) in '01, '02 through '06 and then '08 & '09. Prior to this season his career record was 22-28 and his career ERA was close to 5.50.

Conspicuous by its absence from the back of Dickey's virtual baseball card is any Major League statistical information for the 2002 season. Similarly absent is any for the 2007 season. Twice in the span of the past eight years, Dickey's career path had taken him back to the minors - and not for momentary stopovers - and both times he had scrapped his way back to "The Show". At the end of the 2009 season however he again found himself a man without a home. More pointedly, he found himself a 35 year-old journeyman pitcher without a contract or a job for the 2010 season.

To much applause and enthusiasm (click on the link and scroll down to the comment posted by Hater4Life) from their fan base, the Mets signed Dickey to a minor-league contract on December 22, 2009. Dickey started the season at their minor-league affiliate in Buffalo but when the Mets had to place one of their starters on the disabled list in mid-May, Dickey got the call. To say he has made the most of the opportunity would be an understatement.

In the four months since he was called up, Dickey has been living the Life of Aaron Small and on Tuesday night he won his eleventh game of the season. Sports is often dominated by the great player. As someone who was never that guy (not even in video game sports - In Mattel Intellivision football my friend Mike Koplowitz used to run the same play over and over that I never figured out how to stop), I find it easy to admire the great player and sit jaw agape at his or her talent. I find it much easier however to stand up and cheer for the player who is not the great athlete. The player who is living in the moment, secure in the knowledge that absolutely nothing that has preceded this point in time has come easily for him or her and that there is absolutely no guarantee that this moment will be followed by another one that brings equal joy.

By all accounts, Dickey is just such a player. I root for him the same way I pulled hard for Aaron Small during the magical run he had in the second half of the 2005 season. Small was a career minor-leaguer who the Yankees called up when their high-priced but essentially spineless starting rotation imploded in the heat of the summer. All Small did was win his first ten decisions in the regular season. But for his efforts the Yankees would not have made it to the post-season.....where they promptly were kicked to the curb by the Angels. When the '05 season ended, so did his magic. He started the '06 season with the Yankees (after a stint on the DL) but when he did so poorly, he was gone. But the memory of what he accomplished during his magical moment remains. It is not diminished by the fact that he never replicated it.

I know not what the future holds for Dickey but I hope he does have another season in the sun to accompany this one. Whether he shall I could not pretend to know - or even guess. I shall continue to root for him to do well. I presume that a lot of others - perhaps even Hater4Life - will as well. Root for a man whose presence inspires a bit of hope in all of us who were never the star athlete or the one for whom success came readily.

Rooting for a man who may be just another dreamer but who - for this season at least - is living the dream. And perhaps allowing any of us sitting in our living rooms who ever dreamed the same dream to ride shotgun on his for a while.

-AK

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