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Chronicle of a journeyman – ‘Wherever I Wind Up’

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Pitcher’s memoir a story of more than just baseball

David Foster Wallace once wrote a wonderful piece about how disappointing an athlete’s autobiography can be. While he used Tracy Austin’s “Beyond Center Court” as an example of the general vapidity of the athlete’s biography, the truth is that there are hundreds of hastily ghost-written books out there that, while providing the basic nuts and bolts information about an athlete, never really tell us anything about who they are.

However, when that is not the case – when both the athlete and co-author are both literate, expressive and willing to speak truthfully – the reader is treated to a very real, very raw peek behind the curtain at an athlete’s real personality; warts and all. The reader gets an actual memoir – one that just happens to star an athlete.

The reader gets “Wherever I Wind Up” (Blue Rider Press, $24.95) by R.A. Dickey with Wayne Coffey.

R.A. Dickey is a major league pitcher with the New York Mets. Well – he is now. “Wherever I Wind Up” is the story of Dickey’s journey to scale that summit. It’s the story of a faded prodigy, a former collegiate All-American, Olympic medal winner and first-round draft pick who failed to live up to his initial promise. Dickey’s medical concerns (he was born without an ulnar collateral ligament or UCL, meaning that he should have struggled to turn a door knob, let alone throw a 90-plus fastball) led to a drastic drop in his signing bonus, which in turn led to a lengthy period of bouncing around the minor leagues. His switch to the knuckleball resurrected his career and helped him stay in the bigs.

There’s more here than baseball, however. Far more. Dickey overcame a great deal of adversity just to make it into a big league organization. He struggled to deal with an emotionally distant father and a mother who was succumbing to substance abuse. He was haunted by guilty memories of childhood abuse – several times by a family babysitter and once again by a total stranger.

It’s not all sadness. Dickey has a wife and family that he clearly loves (though he also confesses to mistakes that he’s made with regards to his marriage). His faith is also very important to him; he repeatedly makes mention of how much his Christianity means to him personally, although happily, he does it in such a way as to avoid proselytizing or preaching. Family and God are Dickey’s first two loves – baseball is a fairly distant third.

“Wherever I Wind Up” works because it never feels disingenuous or false - for better or worse, Dickey has committed to telling the reader the truth as he sees it. It takes a lot of courage to dredge up painful memories that would prefer to stay buried, but Dickey clearly understands that it isn’t just the triumphs that define us, but also the tragedies. His life has seen plenty of both.

R.A. Dickey isn’t perfect. He’d never try and tell you that he was. But his observations (both personal and professional) are thoughtful and engaging. He and co-writer Coffey have produced a work that easily transcends our usual expectations of the typical “blah blah me me blah” sports biography.

Don’t let the fact that this is a book by and about an athlete discourage you from reading this book. There’s plenty of inside baseball stuff for the sports fans, to be sure, but R.A. Dickey is so much more than your everyday ballplayer. His story is about so much more than baseball; it’s about life, love, faith and the struggle to become the person you believe you should be.

Wherever he winds up, you can bet that R.A. Dickey will land on his feet.

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