Sunday, 9 September 2012

Review: "Wherever I Wind Up" by R.A. Dickey

The autobiography of R.A. Dickey "Wherever I Wind Up" is not your average sports biography, but then again neither is the author your average ball player.  He's one of the few knuckleball pitchers in the Big Leagues.  He's only recently started having success after being a borderline AAA-Major Leaguer his entire career, and exploded this season with a 17-4 W-L record with a 2.63 Earned Run Average as of this writing.  He majored in English Literature in college and quotes lines from his favourite books.  As such, he has started receiving a lot of attention from the media, and not just the usual sports content providers.

While R.A. Dickey uses a co-author, it's easy to see that he has a distinctive voice which carries through the book.  His account is more than the old-school biography in which a player would quote: "My second year I did such and such and went to the All-Star Game and we made the playoffs, blah blah blah.."  It is well written, and revealing.  It also follows a recent trend in sports biographies in that it is searingly honest about his upbringing and experiences outside the sport.  Mr. Dickey overcame a difficult family situation and personal suffering and abuse, which he exposes and discusses openly.

His interesting athletic journey takes him from a gym rat childhood to a great collegiate career and eventual membership on the Atlanta Olympics US Baseball squad.  He is a first-round draft pick of the Rangers, but hits a major speed bump to his career right after being drafted.  He perseveres through the ups and downs of life as a journeyman pitcher until a fateful meeting with his team's management when they convince him to retrain as a knuckleball pitcher, which entails more time in the minors and tribulations.

While he is a thoughtful and reasonable guy, there are some surprising moments in the book which make the reader shake his head, none more so than his decision one day to attempt swimming across the Missouri River while in Omaha.  He had looked out upon the mighty river from the team's hotel for years and thought that, as a strong swimmer, it would be a difficult but achievable challenge for him.  His very cursory research should have led him to reconsider, but bizarrely, he went ahead and attempted the stunt which went very wrong.  This passage was all the more shocking to this reader when the amount of pollution in the river is considered, and for the fact that he is currently reading Stephen Ambrose's account of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Nowhere in the latter book does it occur to a reader that attempting to swim across such a broad and swiftly-flowing river is anything but a suicidal project.

Another worthwhile aspect of this biography is how the author repairs some of his relationships that have been damaged, sometimes by his own actions.  He is a man of strong faith, and often takes the high road when faced with difficult moments in his life, instead of burning bridges, which serves him well later on.

While no longer a baseball fan, the reviewer enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in sports and stories of triumph over adversity.

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