The mountain stands more than 19,000 feet high, a majestic, daunting presence that dominates the African landscape. Mt. Kilimanjaro is the highest point on the continent, an imposing challenge to any adventurer.
04/17/2012 5:04 PM ET
Dickey climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro
Mets knuckleballer raises more than $100K for charity
By Hal Bock / MLBPLAYERS.com
R.A. Dickey accepted the challenge.
The Mets knuckleballer recruited Major League pitcher Kevin Slowey and Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello, and together the trio set out on a great adventure, climbing Kilimanjaro last January. It was a rather odd way to prepare for Spring Training.
The trip was not without its hazardous moments.
"There were a few occasions when there was some mild trepidation," Dickey said. "It never consumed me, though. I always felt I could stop and turn back."
That did not turn out to be necessary. The climbing party, including guides, porters and a cook, completed its mission.
"We got to the top," Dickey said matter-of-factly. "And then we came back."
The journey from base to peak took six and a half days in frigid temperatures and thin air, and when it was over, there was a sense of great accomplishment for Dickey, who raised more than $100,000 for the Bombay Teen Challenge, an organization dedicated to fighting teenage sex trafficking in India.
It seems like an obscure cause, but not to the pitcher.
"I have a personal connection with that charity," he said. "I am involved in its outreach. I have two daughters. I feel some empathy for those people because of my own story."
That story includes two incidents of sexual abuse during his childhood. The episodes are disclosed in Dickey's recently-published autobiography, "Wherever I Wind Up: My Search for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball."
Dickey decided the Kilimanjaro climb would be a great way to raise money for the charity and, while the Mets were not thrilled with the idea, the team made a generous contribution when it was over.
The pitcher's return home was cause for celebration by his wife and children who had supported the African adventure.
"It was," Dickey said, "the only trip I took in the offseason."
Dickey became intrigued with the idea of climbing the mountain from his reading of Ernest Hemingway, who wrote "The Snows of Kilimanjaro."
"I was always a big fan of his work," the pitcher said. "He talks about it in his writing."
It is not clear, however, if Hemingway, an avid outdoorsman, ever tried scaling the legendary mountain.
Hemingway is not all that Dickey reads. He is something of a Renaissance man who recognizes that life is more than hits, runs and errors. His locker at Citi Field always includes a number of challenging titles, a leftover from his days as an English literature major at the University of Tennessee.
He was a traditional pitcher in those days, and after being drafted by the Rangers, he drifted through a mediocre career pitching with limited success for Texas, Milwaukee, Minnesota and Seattle.
And then he discovered the knuckleball.
It is a quirky pitch with a mind of its own that ambles from the pitcher's hand to home plate with its own agenda.
"You define it by saying it is a pitch beyond control," Dickey said. "The control you think you have, you don't have."
Dickey's concern is to release the ball at the proper place.
"All I care about is starting it at the right height," he said. "After that, it will do what it will do."
When he embraced the knuckleball, Dickey became a member of a very select fraternity of pitchers who used the pitch as their main weapon. They are headed by 300-game winner Phil Niekro, who rode the pitch all the way to the Hall of Fame. Other notable disciples include Charley Hough and Tim Wakefield, who retired this season.
"We stay in touch," said Dickey, the last active knuckleballer in the Major Leagues. "Those guys are all on my speed dial."
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.