May 2012

A King’s Bargain

Photo ©Susan Spector

“I’ve always been interested in professional athletes like yourself who draw inspiration from the arts,” I began haltingly.

Hardly believing that I had been given the opportunity to personally address R. A. Dickey, I nervously continued, telling him that one of the highlights of my own professional career at the Metropolitan Opera was to have played a performance at which former First Baseman John Olerud and his wife were in attendance.  After making note of his obvious respect and reverence for the classics of literature, I asked R.A. if there are other art forms or disciplines that hold his interest.

It was an AP course in Applied Art, with charcoal as his medium, which spurred his continuing interest in the visual arts, he answered.  While on road trips, he said, he is now attuned to local cultural offerings and often frequents art museums around his work schedule.  He also stated that he likes many genres of music.  “Good question,” he said in conclusion.

In a rather unusual promotion, the Mets had organized a “Q & A” with pitcher R.A. Dickey in conjunction with the recent release of his autobiography.

The event, which took place yesterday in the Press Room at Citi Field, offered each participant a chance to pose a question to the famed knuckleballer, an autographed copy of Dickey’s book, an all-you-can-eat buffet in the Champions Club, and a ticket to the game.  (The game, by the way, turned out to be a lot more than one of the incidentals of the package:  my family and I made the acquaintance of distinguished blogger Greg Prince and were the recipients of an autographed copy of his own book, Faith and Fear in Flushing, as well as his delightful companionship for the game itself.)  Although the media were present, the ground rules had been stated at the beginning:  this was an event for the fans; it was our questions that would be addressed.  Dickey even expressed his personal gratitude for us showing an interest in him and his book before even opening up the floor to questions.

Having had that clarified at the outset and knowing that this event was centered around Dickey’s literary prowess, I suppose I should not have been surprised at how many of the questions that were posed from some of the one hundred or so gathered in the small room were, like my own, of a personal nature.  And maybe–having met R.A. previously at a “Meet and Greet” with players in the Caesar’s Club last season and having heard him speak in post-game interviews–I equally should not have been  surprised at how candidly and unswervingly Dickey responded to personal questions.

Regardless, I was surprised, particularly with Dickey’s forthrightness.

The more I heard the man speak, the more incredulous I became.  I wondered:  how could the Mets have managed to acquire such a find?!

What the Mets have in R.A. Dickey is, first and foremost, a first-class gentleman.   He is also a self-effacing, humble man, a stellar scholar and philosopher, published author, dedicated philanthropist…and, oh yeah, a player just named National League Player of the week and the starter currently possessing the best record in the rotation. And yet, with yesterday’s questions and answers pertaining to matters such as Medieval literature, psychological counseling, the psychological effects of severed or strained family relationships, and the profound effect that Ernest Hemingway’s imagery of Mt. Kilmanjaro had upon him as a seventh-grader, it was the direct questions about baseball itself that actually were disconcerting to me.

It was not that questions regarding the mechanics of his specialty pitch or about his personal knuckleball mentors or the size one’s hand needs to be to successfully throw a knuckleball were inappropriate.  Nor was R.A. hesitant in any way to fully address these questions.  It was rather that, with the line of discussion primarily centering around more universal themes, general life experiences, and personal philosophies, I found myself forgetting that the person at the front of the room was someone whom I first came to admire for his athleticism.

I found myself thinking, “Oh. Right.  This guy pitches for us!”

***

One of the last run of performances that I had the pleasure of playing this season at the MET was of the opera Billy Budd, composed by Benjamin Britten, with a libretto by E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier. It is based upon the novella by Herman Melville.  Faithful to the novel, Britten’s Budd is a new recruit whose optimism and naiveté  are a welcome palliative to the dreary life aboard the SS Indomitable experienced by his fellow sailors.  While those same qualities–or his response to them–eventually prove threatening to the Master-at-Arms, John Claggart, his response upon meeting the newest seaman pressed into service shows his discernment of Billy’s unique personal attributes:

A find in a thousand…

A beauty,  A jewel.  

The pearl of great price.

There are no more like him!  I’ve seen many men, many years have I given to the King, sailed many seas.  

He is a king’s bargain.

***

From the world that is professional baseball in America today, a culture where prospects are often scouted before even finishing high school, much less completing a college degree, comes this man of Letters–not just those on the back of his uniform.

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