By Frankie O
I hate the Mets! Its funny where your mind will wander to while you're in the middle of a thousand-mile drive. That I was trying to achieve the distance in one day should come as no surprise to any of you. The experience of driving through Nebraska, which I was doing for the first time, can as be mind-numbing as any drive I have ever made. No wonder they're crazy about their college football team, anything to take your mind off of where you are. While the kids are watching "College Road Trip" for the 1000th time that I can remember in the car, I start to mentally check out and let the 'white line fever', and the caffeine buzz, take effect. For some reason, I started thinking about the Mets starting pitcher, R.A. Dickey. I must be losing it! As you know, ordinarily I wouldn't give a pitcher from the Mets a second thought, but this guy is definitely different. The most obvious difference being that he's a knuckleballer. You know, the pitch that guys who are on the way out, try in a last-ditch effort to hang on to the Major League dream. 99.9 don't make it, the foray with the most unconventional, and un-manly, pitch being the last act of a truly desperate man. But for Dickey, his knuckler has not only got him to remain in the bigs, it has allowed him to flourish and has been the most confounding pitch thrown in the Majors this year.
That gets me thinking of the ultimate, in my mind, tale of a knuckleballer, and that is "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton. About the one-time Yankees whiz-kid who was hanging on by a thread, and his finger-tips, to his Major League dream. Was that a cop?
Anyway, Dickey's success this year has been shocking. A pedestrian, at best, pitcher during his very undistinguished career, he is living every kid's dream of dominating Major League hitters and being the toast of baseball. All of this at the ripe old age of 37, well past the time that many of his fellow under-achievers have hung it up.
Of course, this success has led the media to ask the question: Who is this R.A. Dickey??
As expected, with any knuckleballer, he's got quite a story. He was a young pitching hot-shot, who was drafted in the first round of the amateur draft by the Texas Rangers in the 1996 draft. He was offered big money to sign, and just needed a physical to get his cash. It was during this physical that it was discovered that he did not possess an ulnar collateral ligament -whatever that is!- in his pitching elbow. Bye-bye bonus! Thus began his nomadic professional existence. In 2006 he committed to the pitch full time and the Rangers gave him an opportunity in their rotation. After giving up 6 long-balls in his first start, that opportunity was gone and sent him off on his journey bouncing up and down between the Majors and minors. This led to his coming to my despised rival in 2010. That was his breakout year, where he proved that he and his bag of tricks could be a serviceable Major Leaguer.
But like everyone else, I didn't really notice, because sports are full of guys that hang on for a while and then are gone and, oh, did I mention he's a Met?! But, his pitching this year has made sure that we find out who he is and this is where it gets interesting. The first thing that struck me was that he was an English Lit major while he attended the University of Tennessee. That was not a typo. (Sorry, couldn't help myself. Easy shot, but I had to take it!) So right off the bat, this is not your ordinary ballplayer.
One of the first things that comes up when you google him is that, he climbed to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro this past off-season to raise money and awareness in the battle against human trafficking.
At this point he really gets my interest because here is someone who is willing to risk quite a bit for something he believes in. Something that in this world is a large issue, but one you don't necessarily hear about a lot here in the States.
But what really struck home, especially now, is him coming out this year and talking about how he was sexually abused growing up and how he has fought to overcome the mental obstacles this abuse has caused. Unfortunately this topic has my attention because of the ongoing Penn State scandal. I can't stop wondering how the victims overcome the evil that they were subjected to, and feel some residual guilt because they've had to do it. Being a Penn Stater just doesn't feel the same anymore. In fact, I unwittingly had a Penn State t-shirt on to wear as I drove to Denver. I still feel uncomfortable wearing any Penn State stuff out of the house. Realizing what I had done made me change shirts during the drive. The jury decision was a start in that case, but to hear Dickey talk what he still goes through makes me feel for the Penn State victims even more.
More too is my respect for Dickey. It can't be easy to bare your soul of uncomfortable things in front of everyone. But I have to imagine that his doing so, in some way, has to help others that have suffered the same injustice.
He's one athlete that you could say is a good role model. I understand the whole Barkley thing about how we put athletes on a pedestal and we shouldn't treat people who we have never met as our ultimate heroes. Barkley is especially correct in his own case. While I love him, the only one who Sir Charles should be a role model for is Joey Chestnut! (1) I have to make a Chestnut reference in my first July blog every year after he dominates the field once again on Coney Island. 2) I don?t believe the Barkley weight-watcher thing. His weight is going to snap back to where it was faster than you can say Frankie O. I know a fellow food-lover when I see one!)
It's impossible for us to watch others in the public eye and not develop feelings. Hopefully we choose the right ones.
More importantly, and to Barkley's famous point, we should be lucky enough to find and surround ourselves with others that are more worth emulating. Even someone as cynical as I am knows these folks are all around us. It's a matter of whether we are fortunate enough to find them.
For me, it started with my son and the people that have come into my life since he was born. Unfortunately he was born with a very rare skin disorder. Rare enough that we have met only a handful of people in this country that also have the same disorder.
But, fortunately, through his doctor (Needless to say, one of my favorite people ever!), we were able to meet many other families that were going through very similar circumstances. There are a group of disorders that fall under the description of being an Ichthyosis. These disorders, currently a total of 28, are brought together by the Foundation for Ichthyosis and Related Skin Types (F.I.R.S.T. www.firstskinfoundation.org) It is an organization that brings together doctors, families, researchers and anyone else who wants to help.
For my family, this organization means the world. Having a child born with something that would be considered a disorder, or disease or illness that has no cure can very intimidating. Actually, it starts out as being suffocating. The weight of it is always there and you know that it is not going away.
It takes a while, mentally, for a parent to come to grips with that thought. It has a way of offering a new perspective of a lot of things that go on in everyday life. Call it a forced adjustment of priorities. But soon enough, you are able to move on. And thank goodness for that, since, who wants to stay in that place?
Like everything else in life, it helps when you can meet people on a similar path. Every two years we are able to do that when F.I.R.S.T. has a family conference. It's an opportunity to bond with old friends and begin relationships with new ones. It also affords the ability to meet with the leading Pediatric Dermatologists in the country to make sure we are on the right path. Within this we also can find out about the scientific advancements that hopefully hold the key to a better future.
To be honest, it can be a whirlwind and an incredibly emotional time.
But I always come away with the same thoughts and feelings. I'm truly in awe of being around such special people. It is so reaffirming to know that there are people that are motivated to help others live a better life. It makes me think that I better get my butt in gear to keep the line moving. (Thank you, Ed Farmer!)
I know there is more that I can do to help, and I might have to ask you to help me do it. But that will come in a little while.
Driving back from Denver and the Rocky Mountains, a place that even in spite of an all-time heat wave and awful wildfires, that my family and I completely fell in love with, (Come into the bar and I will tell you all about the sheer terror, panic, euphoria and majesty of getting to the summit of Mt. Evans! )my mind started to wander again due to the monotony of the Nebraska leg once again.
I started thinking about the people from the conference. I also was reminded of Dickey. I was struck by the fact that both do a lot of good for a lot of people by being driven by the idea of making a difference. Because Dickey is famous he can be looked at as a role model, and a very good one at that. But I realized that the group of folks that I and my family just spent the weekend with, although they will never get the public recognition, should be looked upon the very same way.
We should all be so lucky to have those type of people in our lives. I know I am.
And then another thought comes into my mind as I set my cruise-control a little higher and it brings a smile to my face: I still hate the Mets!!