Old School — Review: Wherever I Wind Up

Old School — Review: Wherever I Wind Up

R. A. Dickey has done a lot in his life; he’s been a top collegiate pitcher for the University of Tennessee, he’s pitched for Team USA in the 1996 Olympics, he’s played for four different major league ballclubs, he’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and now he’s written a book.

Wherever I Wind Up is a story of overcoming obstacles, persevering and trusting God. Through all of his struggles, R.A. has found redemption and healing through Christ.

Athletes write books all the time. But this one is different. Instead of only seeing the surface level that most athletes give us, we get into the mind of Robert Allen Dickey. He shares the thoughts, the worries, the doubts, and occasionally, the triumphs.

“I’d trusted myself and pitched with conviction during my warm up…I was fully in the moment. And when I started, I hid…As I let each pitch go that night, I had voices in my head saying, ‘Please let it be a strike,’ and ‘Please don’t let them hit it.’”

“It is no way to pitch, no way to live.”

In Wherever I Wind Up, you are on the journey with R.A. as he provides memories in precise detail, reliving his thoughts and actions throughout the book. His photographic memory provides a picture of his life as a child and certain moments in his adult life and baseball career.

He vividly recalls the games he would play with other boys at the minor league ballpark in Nashville, and what his thoughts were while meeting with Texas manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Orel Hershiser about becoming a full-time knuckleballer. He even recounts the layout of bars he was taken to as a child with his once-alcoholic mother. R.A. is a great wordsmith, and Wherever I Wind Up makes it really easy to put yourself in R.A.’s shoes.

Dickey has always been a fighter. He writes about getting into plenty of fights as a kid, and often he was the one starting them. It explains his persistence in trying to make it to the big leagues after many others typically give up.

He spent seven years in AAA at Oklahoma City and didn’t play a full season in the big leagues, without a stint in the minors, until last season. As you might expect, the journey was filled with ups and downs, much like his signature pitch, the knuckleball.

Dickey isn’t a knuckleballer by choice; it was a pitch he turned to as a last ditch effort to save his career. In 2005, Dickey had lost the velocity on his fastball, dipping below 90 mph, and the Rangers coaching staff told him he would not make it back to the big leagues if he continued to be a conventional pitcher. Thus began Dickey’s journey to become a full-time knuckleballer.

At first, he writes, he was a little resistant, but he decided he would give it a try. He wrote, “Who cares about throwing 90 miles per hour? I’m tired of being average or worse. Tired of being lost, hiding on the margins of life and the Texas Rangers’ roster.”

I think it’s really cool to hear the thoughts of a baseball player in this book. So often we get such calculated statements from guys in interviews after games. When guys go through slumps, they insist they have not lost any confidence, or have no worries about tomorrow’s performance. Yet, everyone knows those answers are a bunch of baloney.

R.A.’s honesty is the key ingredient that makes this book such a good read. Dickey often talks about how he would doubt himself while standing on the mound or waiting in the bullpen. It lets you know that professional baseball players are indeed human while on the diamond.

R.A.’s journey has not been alone. God has been with him. Throughout the book, R.A. writes about his prayers to God. When R.A. was in seventh grade, after attending a few weeks of FCA meetings with his friend Bo (whose sister, Anne, R.A. would later marry), R.A. decided, “I want a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

He lets us in on his salvation experience: “… I get on my knees with Bo and his mom, and ask Christ to come into my life. I tell Him that I believe He is the Son of God, and I want to trust Him with my life. I secretly ask for forgiveness for what seems like a galaxy of sins and guilt and shame.

“When I am done speaking, the room is completely still. I feel relief. A lightness. It’s not the sky opening up, or angels singing, or lightning bolts striking the big magnolia in the front yard. Nothing grand or God-like. It’s much more subtle, like the best deep breath you could ever take.”

It’s refreshing to see an athlete be open and honest about his life, revealing his sins and struggles, and a secret no one would want to have, because even with God on his side, R.A. has lived through much conflict and pain.

His willingness to share all of this makes his redemption story even more amazing. His parents separated when he was young. His mother became a bad alcoholic, and R.A. moved out to live with his mostly absent father, breaking his mother’s heart. He spent many nights in high school living in abandoned houses. He lost more than $800,000 in bonus money from the Texas Rangers after a physical revealed he did not have an ulnar collateral ligament, which is the ligament people get Tommy John surgery on. He toiled away in the minor leagues. He cheated on his wife while on the road. He almost drowned trying to swim across the Missouri River. But most shocking, and the root of a lot of mental anguish throughout his life, was the revelation that he had been sexually abused as a child by his female babysitter and later by a 17-year-old boy.

I think it’s really courageous that R.A. could tell his deep, dark secrets to the world. Hopefully, Wherever I Wind Up can be encouraging to others who have been abused and need to seek help/counseling, and to others who try to hide their sins instead of asking for forgiveness and repenting.

It’s really fitting that the knuckleball became his pitch of choice. A pitch that is wildly unpredictable and hard to control. A pitch that is best thrown when you trust that it will move and do the things you need to get Major League hitters out. As R.A. finally began to trust his knuckleball, he also finally put complete trust in God for His plan for his life.

Now R.A. has a full-time spot in the New York Mets rotation. No more stints in the minors, and stability with one team, one city, and with his family and finances. God had His hand in delivering him through the darkness, personally, and in his career, and R.A. wants people to know that.

I hate to give you any more spoilers here (though I’m really not, since to really understand his words here you’ll need to take the journey with him), but here are the last couple lines from the book:

“I know my journey is nowhere near complete. The point isn’t to arrive. The point is to seek, to walk humbly with God, to keep walking, keep believing even though you know there will be times when you make mistakes and feel lost. You keep seeking the path, and He will show you the way.

“Thank you, merciful God for all these blessings and more, for giving me the courage to stop hiding, and the courage to find a new way.

“I turn out the light. I close my eyes. I have hope.”

Wherever I Wind Up is one of the most insightful, inspiring books that you will probably ever read about a professional athlete.

Do yourself a favor and read it!

By Aaron May

Aaron May is a staff writer is a staff writer and videographer for Sports Spectrum. You can catch his weekly columns on college football, college basketball, and Major League Baseball, depending on the season, each week at SportsSpectrum.com. This column was published in the Sports Spectrum Summer 2012 DigiMag. Follow Aaron on Twitter-@pplcallmeblue.