Literature influences Dickey in fatherhood

Literature influences Dickey in fatherhood

NEW YORK -- By now, the patrons of Citi Field have familiarized themselves with R. A. Dickey, the Mets' right-handed pitcher. Folks in these parts may not be aware that his initials stand for Robert Alan or that, during the '90s, he threw a fastball in the 90s. Because of his successes with the Mets, they now recognize for his knuckleball, his hair -- the length of which is something between Manny Ramirez's and Kobe Bryant's -- and his Grizzly Adams beard. There's more to him, of course.

So here's the book on Dickey: He's quiet, gentle, unassuming, thoughtful, tolerant, empathetic and wise. And the first chapter of any book about him ought to say that he reads. He reads like Jeff Francoeur talks, like Jose Reyes smiles, like Chris Carter eschews sitting, like Dan Warthen frets. A book is in his hand at least as often as his hand is in a glove.

R.A. -- Reads Alot.

In the aftermath of roster revisions, changes in the "neighborhoods" in the Mets' clubhouse have occurred, and Dickey now lockers close to John Maine at one end of the wall that is home mostly to pitchers. Each is an enthusiastic reader. Theirs is the corner closest to the showers; and nothing ought to be read into that. It also is the corner diagonally and diametrically opposed to Reyes' locker, where chatter and laughter often are heard but only when Reyes' music isn't being amplified to Armando Benitez levels.

"I find television very educational. Every time someone turns it on, I go in the other room and read a book."
-- Groucho Marx

In the Maine-Dickey area, the decibel level usually is comfortable, even relaxing. A teammate happened by recently and noted Dickey and Maine were reading -- and without headphones -- and decided the corner should be called The Library. Sssh.

The written word has appealed to Dickey since before he could write. He won a poetry contest as a seventh grader in an all-boys school in Nashville, Tenn. He's been booked solid for the better part of his 35 years. And for the better part of his last eight, he has shared his affection and a number of books with his daughter(s) and, more recently, with his son.

If that makes him an uncommon father, so be it. Dickey takes his positions, those of father, teacher and motivator for Mary Gabriel (8), Lila Anne (7) and Elijah Wilson (3), quite seriously. "I'm very intentional with it," he said. "I'm not too much 'left side of the brain' with biology and sciences. It's more literature, human language, poetry."

Now that his offseasons no longer are occupied with winter baseball -- they aren't for three good reasons -- Dickey has more time to introduce all of them to the wonders inside the covers. Last winter, the Dickeys were introduced to "The Hobbit" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" are waiting to be "unpeeled" -- as he says. "We pick a novel each winter," Dickey said.

"Reading to kids is to ordinary reading what jazz is to a string quartet."
-- Sean Wilentz. Reader's Quotation Book

It's done for fun. "I don't want reading ever to be a chore" he says. "I want reading for come naturally for them. I want the enjoyment to be natural." And so far, it is for Gabriel. "She's an avid reader," the father says, as proud of that assessment as he would be of an 18-year-old's no-hitter.

"We discuss what we've read so. There's no testing, but I do want to know about their comprehension and what they retain ... want them to see beneath the surface, to understand the human condition and actions that happen ... the thing I hope for them is that they have depth, that they relate well to all walks of life, all social classes and ethnic backgrounds. I want them to assimilate and empathize, [do] more than just tolerate."

All that and more comes from books. But reading other material provides parental guidelines and explanation. Dickey often writes to his children, particularly during Spring Training while they are home in Nashville with his wife, Lila, and he is in Florida or Arizona or Wherever. "We communicate [electronically]. We're on iChat," he said. But Dickey is certain the written word has greater impact. So he encourages writing. Gabriel is writing poetry aside from school assignments.

"I like intellectual reading. It's to my mind what fiber is to my body."
-- Grey Livingston

She and her siblings keep their father's mailbox full. And what they send him often is delightful. Gabriel sent one of her returned school assignments to Dickey in Spring Training. The famous person she chose for a report was Jackie Robinson. Included in the report was a timeline that included three entries:

"1919: He is born."

"1947: He plays for the Dodgers."

"1972: He dies."

"I think she covered it," Dickey said.

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.