R.A. Dickey Joins Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin for a New York God Squad of Underdogs

Rocky SamuelsCorrespondent IIApril 14, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 07: R.A. Dickey #43 of the New York Mets looks on from the dugout against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field on April 7, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

In a turn of events as improbable as Tim Tebow's "miracle in Miami" or Jeremy Lin's dumbfounding debut of Linsanity against the Nets, New York is now swelling with a trinity of evangelical Christian athletes in three different sports.

The third member of the list is the least well known of the group, but the New York Mets knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey has the most captivating story of the three, which he has penned in a page-turning memoir of sexual abuse, a marriage on the rocks, a near-drowning, and heaps and heaps of redemptive baseball reflection.

Given his surname, Dickey is unlikely to evoke the same steady riff of sportswriter puns that Lin's Linspirational and Lincredible stretch of Linning did, but Dickey's underdog story is downright Dickensian, with its gripping tale of childhood woe and adult triumph.

Wherever I Wind Up is a perfect title for this memoir. It captures the instability of Dickey's long grind in the minors, and his vertiginous series of call-ups to the majors, which often ended as suddenly as they began. 

The title also fits Dickey's hard-earned philosophical mindset and grace-earned spiritual attitude: he is now willing to trust his uncertain future to a God he believes has sustained him through unimaginably devastating disappointment, both on and off the field.

To unseen readers, Dickey exposes a secret he once kept hidden from everyone in his life (even his family). 

As a child, Dickey was raped, first by a female babysitter, and later by a teenage boy from his neighborhood.

Dickey shares this with a matter-of-fact manner that speaks to the healing of both his once-fractured psyche and his previously guarded heart.

Little is left guarded in Dickey's narrative. He is blunt about his marital infidelity, for instance—a turn to "lust" that nearly destroyed his marriage and certainly tarnished his pristine Christian image.

This is where Dickey's story deviates most dramatically from Tebow's and Lin's. The latter two have a testimony of faith characterized by a steady commitment to Christian principles they learned from their parents. That, of course, does not make their faith-fueled triumphs any less spectacular than Dickey's, but their upbringings were clearly different.

Dickey's parents divorced when he was young, and his alcoholic mother was more likely to take him to the bar than the church.

Dickey caught his faith from a respected high school friend and then nurtured that commitment in a group called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Nevertheless, readers will not find a smooth and seamless tale of Christianity here; there is no easy dividing line between Dickey's "lost" and "found" stage of spirituality. More often than not, Dickey seems both sinner and saint as he scrapes through a gritty journey to peace. 

Fittingly, his watershed moment comes in the water.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 13: R.A. Dickey #43 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch during the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on April 13, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Mets won 5-2. (Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty I
Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images

In a foolhardy stunt to test his swimming prowess, Dickey nearly drowned in the Missouri River. He offers a harrowing account of this 2007 incident, writing with gripping honesty and raw detail.

Much of Dickey's shame and sorrow were submerged in that near-death experience.

Dickey's path to peace has also led him to unlikely late-career success with the Mets. As a 37-year-old converted knuckleballer, Dickey could have many more years hurling the kind of capricious pitches that can be as unpredictable for the pitchers throwing them as they are for the hitters trying to follow their frenetic dances toward the plate.

In short, it's hard to know where a knuckleball will wind up; like every other unpredictable break in this life, R.A. Dickey prays to be at peace with that.