R.A. Dickey was passed up for an All-Star starting bid that many believe he deserved, but don't call it an "injustice" because Dickey's inspirational story won't allow it.
Dickey has certainly provided plenty to cheer about this year for not only Mets fans, but all baseball observers who enjoy a rousing ending to a story filled with hardship, setback and perseverance.
That is why Tony La Russa's selection of San Francisco Giants' hurler Matt Cain as the National League starter—despite Dickey's superiority over Cain in a slew of pitching categories—seems like such an obtrusive interruption into Dickey's narrative arc.
Dickey has been passed up before, though, when the stakes were higher and the impact profound.
After being selected by the Rangers in the first round of the 1996 MLB draft, Dickey's Big-League dreams quickly deflated in the face of an MRI that revealed to the Rangers' staff (and to Dickey) that he was missing the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, an abnormality that made him a risky prospect.
He was deemed too risky, in fact, for most Major League teams.
Dickey toiled in the minors for years before attempting a paradoxical achievement: making himself a fit for the Major Leagues by mastering the quintessential misfit pitch.
It is safe to assume there are few, if any young, aspiring pitchers who grow up thinking "I want to be the best knuckleball pitcher of all time." The knuckleball with all its fluttering fluctuations is not a pitch for the young or the conventional, and the 37-year-old Dickey is neither of those things.
Since securing his place in the Major Leagues, beginning in 2010 with the Mets, Dickey has grown into the most beloved outlier in the league.
He is a Star Wars nerd who is athletic.
He is a devout Christian who mainly reserves his spiritual signals for his writing, rather than the field.
Indeed, he is a rare underdog who can wax proverbial with poetic flare.
Most important of all, Dickey is a survivor of sexual abuse who has gone public with his most personally-devastating trauma.
At its best, sports can shrink all the unwieldy chaos of life into a compressed microcosm where rules are relatively stable, and the opportunities to cheer, hope and celebrate the underdog abound with redemptive possibility.
That is why passing on Dickey as the starter for the 2012 All-Star game seems like such a major infraction to those who have celebrated his manifold achievement's this year—including a 2.40 ERA, a 12-1 record and consecutive one-hitters.
But just as sport can be inspirational, it can also be a bloated balloon of distraction that people pump with effort and air completely out of proportion to the most important elements of our life.
R.A. Dickey knows real injustice first-hand and an All-Star starting snub doesn't compare.
That doesn't mean that Dickey fans throughout New York and elsewhere have no right to throw up their hands and cry foul at La Russa's (no doubt, well-meaning and carefully deliberated but, in this writer's view, misguided) decision. Just because the comparatively trivial annoyances of sports don't match the most tragic of circumstances in real life, doesn't mean that we shouldn’t declare our frustrations on behalf of (perceived) slighted players.
If anything, to know that real tragedy has transpired in the life of someone who has known very few athletic accolades and is denied a rare opportunity for recognition can make the fan disappointment that much more acute and justified.
But there is plenty of solace to be had in the fact that Dickey has already soundly defeated odds and is continuing to use his athletic platform to help many hurting people to overcome what for most of us is unimaginable heartache.
Besides, in the classic underdog tale that Dickey embodies, there is often some sudden curveball thrown into the protagonist's plot just when the viewer or reader believes that character will triumph.
That makes the heroic conclusion that much more suspenseful and, ultimately, jubilant.
The underdog just got thrown a curveball after the first half of the plot. But fear not, RA Dickey fans—it wasn't a knuckleball!