Knuckleballing Author Training For Big Start

It would make for an interesting chart–one showing the print coverage of the Mets games as the season progresses, and hope gradually gives way to despair. When the season starts, 95% of the allotted Mets space in the sports page is about the game–the season is young, the title is up for grabs, and a Met win or loss, at least on paper, is every bit as important and newsworthy as a Phillie win or loss or a Yankee win or loss.

But as the season plods onward, the content of the coverage changes, if not the allotted space, with less significance given to the game itself, and more to the human interest side of the team, and the game. It is about this time of year, when July gives way to August, that the human element–Carlos Beltran trade, off-day players’ trip to a vets hospital, a player’s interest in pottery–begins to dominate the allotted newspaper space, the human stuff devouring the game action, which is relegated to a paragraph or two at the end of the story, perhaps under a boldface subhead labeled, for all intents and purposes, “Oh, By the Way, the Mets Lost Again.”

At this stage of the season the game, sadly, means little in the big picture, as the Mets are–in baseball parlance–playing out the string. (Insert plug/link for Trainjotting sister site Batter Chatter here.)

And so it was that R.A. Dickey got several hundred words in the NY Times over the weekend dedicated to his taste for public transportation. Like John Olerud before him, Dickey enjoys what’s probably the quickest way to the ballpark–a subway train–and at times takes them to the game, in New York and other proper cities where trains go to ballparks.

Baseball reporters love Dickey because he reads books, some of them intellectually stimulating. Like them, he’s at work on a book; unlike them, he’s got a hefty advance from Penguin to keep him motivated.

They also like “The Dickster,” as Jeff Francoeur used to call him, because he’s an offbeat personality who speaks his mind, has a keen ear for dialogue, and has proven adept at coming up with pithy metaphors and phrases.

Dickey spoke about taking Washington’s Metro to the Navy Yard stop last year for his historic faceoff with Stephen Strasburg–which he had likened to a butterfly facing off against and F-18 fighter jet.

Dickey, the foil to Strasburg in the rookie sensation’s fourth career home game, sat quietly, pretending to read Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi” while he soaked in every word, including his own name, flittering around him. He wore jeans, a collared shirt and carried a backpack on that northbound train headed for the Navy Yard stop. Amid those red-clad fans, he looked more as if he was headed to work at the Smithsonian than to start for the Mets in front of a crowd of 39,214, who would pay to watch on a sunny day custom-made for baseball.

“It was kind of like an out-of-body experience,” Dickey recalled. “It was as if I was a fugitive going incognito.”


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