Knuckleballer Dickey’s emotion of choice is hope

From the seventh tee at Harbour Pointe, I don’t see the flagstick 160 yards away in the middle of a large green. I see a water to the front, water to the right and sand to the left.

From where R.A. Dickey stood on the mound last Monday night at Safeco Field, he didn’t see the possibility that the Seattle Mariners’ entire week could fall apart if he’d have been knocked out of the game after just a few innings. He saw a chance to save a worn-down bullpen and continue the positive momentum of a horrible season that is turning around.

In sports, it’s all about the opportunities you’re presented and not the obstacles in your way. That’s what separates the hackers from the professionals.

Nobody knows that better than Dickey, the 33-year-old pitcher who has resurrected his career by throwing a knuckleball after his old way of pitching was taking him on a direct route to life after baseball.

Oh, he knows the pitfalls of this sport. He admits fear can be a powerful motivational tool.

But so can confidence and desire and, above all, hope.

“The quintessential human emotion is hope,” Dickey said.

So that’s how he does it. That’s how he sees the upside in a down season, the possibility in a supposed impossible situation, the flagstick instead of the lake.

“I try to pick out a point on the green and hit it to that point,” he said. “But I’m not going to tell you that I don’t see the lake.”

Or, in the case of last Monday, when Dickey had to overcome his pattern of short outings at Safeco Field, he relied on his ability to throw a good knuckleball, his determination to pitch deep into the game and the hope that things will always be better with the next pitch, the next inning, the next outing.

“In a place that has a potpourri of different choices you can make — and a lot of them are negative — I choose hope,” he said. “That helps me personally.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard someone use the words “quintessential” or “potpourri” in a baseball clubhouse. But Dickey is a cerebral guy.

When he describes what it took to be a successful knuckleball pitcher, he says things like, “It’s a matter of knowing who I’m authentically made to be as a knuckleballer,” and, “When I figured out how to be me, it became me.”

So when it comes to finding a guy who sees hope in a negative situation like this Mariners season, Dickey is the man. There was a time in his career when hope is all he had.

“There’s a lot of pressure here,” he said. “You’ve got to deal with all the pressure, you’ve got to deal with all the fear. It’s a tough place to realize your potential.

“I haven’t figured it out by any means, but (hope) makes doing what I do for a living more enjoyable. I don’t get it right all the time, but I try to live the bulk of my life is in that place, especially when it comes to my career.”

While it may seem baseball offers more opportunity to hope for better results because there’s a game almost every day for six months, Dickey counters that theory.

“The truth is, in football you can have five days to change that negative momentum, you can have a good practice week,” he said. “Here, you lose two or three in a row and all of a sudden your confidence goes down and momentum starts to change. That’s the price we pay to be professional baseball players. You would think that we would be able to forget it.”

Greg Maddux once said that the key to good mental health in baseball is to have a short-term memory and a bulletproof confidence.

“That sounds good and I would love to have that, but it’s hard to do all the time,” Dickey said.

When there’s a slugger in the batter’s box — or a lake on the left — it’s a daunting sight that must be acknowledged, Dickey says. And then he makes his pitch — or takes his shot — with confidence.

“The recognition of fear is an important thing,” he said. “To block it out completely is not reality. There’s a lake on the left? So what?”

I don’t know. I still see nothing but water from the seventh tee at Harbour Pointe.

Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com

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