I try to go to multiple Mets games every season, about once a month. For multiple reasons, by June of 2008 I hadn't yet been. I had wanted to go to a lot of games during the last season at Shea, but my first games ended up being a back to back against the Seattle Mariners. Willie Randolph had recently been fired. It was in many ways a depressing set of games. The first game, but for one AB, was a hell of a pitching duel between Nohan Santana and King Felix. Santana was superb for the most part, but an ill-timed walk and some defensive ineptitude loaded the bases for Hernandez, who in the luckiest AB of the season socked his first ever HR with his eyes closed. The Mets made it interesting in the ninth but couldn't seal the deal. I left dejected but intrigued for the next game. Oliver Perez was starting the next day and to oppose him, the Mariners had called up a no name, a journeyman named R.A. Dickey.
The game was lousy. Ollie was mercurial to say the least in 2008 and on June 24th, Bad Ollie showed up in spades. He gave up 6 runs in 5 innings and to top it off he gave up to no doubt bombs. Jerry Manuel, in his first week as manager, got himself tossed for arguing balls and strikes. The Mets Bullpen conspired to give up another 5 runs before the end and the "mighty" Mets offense mustered only 8 hits and left 16 men on base. As for Dickey, he was, well, ok. 5 K's, 2 walks and 6 hits in 7 IP. Not near his current godlike performance levels, but certainly not bad. You could tell that he was still working on the Knuckler though. The pitch was effectively wild but Dickey lacked the ability to locate at that he currently has. Kenji Johjima had to go through some interesting contortions to keep pitches from the backstop.
Dickey dropped out of sight for me after that. When next I heard his name, Omar was signing him to a minor league deal in 2010. I didn't remember that I had seen him before until later; at the time I just thought it was cool that we had a knuckleball pitcher. In April, in the middle of a game thread, someone mentioned that Dickey was doing something cool in Buffalo. Dickey ended that night with a one-hitter, having given up a single to the first batter he faced and mowing down the next 27 men. After that, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Dickey would make an appearance. His first game was an inauspicious loss to the Nationals but he followed that up with a magnificent outing against Philadelphia (6 IP, 0ER, 7Ks). He started his Mets career 6-1 before finishing the season at 11-9.
At this point, Dickey was already a folk hero for a lot of us, but his deification was slowly gaining ground. When Ollie was demoted to Buffalo, one of the first quotes from the Gospel according to Dickey showed up as a fanpost and it was like a light bulb turned on. Here was a guy who had fought and fought to get where he was and, not content to rest on his arrival in the majors continually refined and worked at his craft. Not only that, he had an amazing pitch face which lent itself well to shooping and was not only aware of that but loved that we had a contest for who could best photo shop him. Who better to semi-jokingly deify?
courtesy of Joe Schultz
When next I saw Dickey, it was 2011 and he was pitching in an unremarkable game against the Pirates. It was when Dickey struck out his 6th batter of the night in only the top of the 4th that I realized we might be watching something special. I sat entranced as Dickey's knuckler danced as I had never seen it dance before, mowing down a new career high of 10 Pirates in 7 and 2/3 IP. Of course, the Mets blew any chance of tying the game after Dickey left, but I think I caught a glimpse that night of what Dickey was going to become, and that glimpse was enough. Before that game, Dickey was part folk hero, part good pitcher, sometimes patron saint and all-around fantastic human being. At that point, I "accepted Dickey as my lord and savior" and elevated him into the top levels of my favorite Mets.
It wasn't as if he was hard to root for. Leaving aside his incredible on the field performance, Dickey told the world the painful details of his childhood and his struggle to remain a professional baseball. On top of that, he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro to combat human trafficking, particularly of underage girls, a cause which sometimes gets buried under other global human rights issues and needs more attention drawn to it. He was gracious, soft-spoken, humble and a gentleman. And he was a Star Wars fan. His walk-up music was the theme song for Game of Thrones, for Dickey's sake! It's like he checked off every box on the reasons to root for athletes checklist.
And then of course, there was the aforementioned on the field performance. When Dickey put it all together this season, it was indeed a Revelation. Several times this season I have been watching the Knicks drain three after three and just started laughing uncontrollably because really, when confronted with that much awesome what else can you do. In the midst of Dickey's back-to-back one hitters I was gripped by that same feeling. That knuckler did more than dance; it was winning ballroom competitions by itself. There was one absolutely silly strike out of Giancarlo Stanton that not only appeared to elevate but also seemed to juke around his bat. I forget who it was, but Dickey later struck out a guy who walked back to the dugout laughing and talking to himself.
The last game I saw at Citi this season was also my bachelor party and fittingly, Dickey was on the mound to make sure the day kicked off properly. I don't know that I would have done anything differently had I known that this would be the last time I would see him in a Mets uniform in person, but I am glad that the planets aligned for him to give me this sendoff.
I'm not quite sure how to fully encapsulate what Dickey meant to me as a Mets fan. It is almost as if there were two Dickeys I was rooting for: the player and the larger than life sun god we had made him to be. By the beginning of this season the Church of Dickey was a thriving concern and it didn't feel right to begin a Dickey start without a reading from the Gospel according to Dickey or reciting Dickey's prayer (floaty be thy balls!). But aside from shouting Dickey be praised at every strikeout, most of the time we just watched and appreciated him as a fantastic ball player. I came of age with the Mets during the late 90s and the era of the greatest infield ever. I felt a lot of what I feel about Dickey as a player about John Olerud, especially after his amazing 1998 season where he finished second for the NL Batting title. Olerud, of course, was never deified, nor did he really find himself as a player in a Mets uniform the way Dickey has.
This trade, intellectually, is a huge coup for Sandy Alderson. Emotionally, it is a bit of a gut punch for me. I am not reduced to tears or feeling as though my heart has been ripped out, but I am saddened. Dickey almost single handedly made the Mets watchable these past few years and we got to follow his career almost as if he was a rookie all over again, as he finally put it all together. So, I remain grateful to Dickey for signing that contract, for spending a few years of his life with us, for enlightening us, for giving us someone fun to watch (and to worship), and finally just for helping me escape from my problems every fifth day. I wish him all the best of luck in Toronto, which by dint of having Reyes AND Dickey is now my AL team. And of course, as a loyal apostle of the Church I couldn't leave you without this:
"And it came to pass, in the two thousand and twelfth year, in the twelfth month, and on the eighteenth day, that the contracts were exchanged, the medicals were posted, and the reporters were notified. And Dickey and his disciples did gather together once more at the gates of the Citi.
And the disciples cried out unto him, "why must thou forsake us Master? Have we been
displeasing to your eye?"
And Dickey replied, "no my faithful, all you have done has been done in a way pleasing to my eye and to my heart. And yet the cup of trade being given to me, shall I not drink of it. It is given that with my departure I leave behind hope for the future. So take Travis and Noah into your hearts my disciples, and forget not what I have taught."
And the disciples began to recite, "Let he who is without ulnar collateral lig-"
"No!" cried Dickey. "Not the words, the meaning, the ball without the spin! Know ye of my creed: strive for greatness in all that you do, to thine own self be true, let not the hatchet jobs nor the boos dissuade you from the betterment of your life."
And the disciples pondered Dickey's words for some time. At length they said unto the lord, "Master we will pay heed to your words. Yet we remain saddened by your departure and know not how we shall continue." And Dickey said "take heart, for wherever I may be, only call on me in your heart and I will be there." And Dickey turned towards the road North and walked away from the Citi gates for the last time."
The Word of Dickey
May he be forever praised