It is the story in a nutshell of Robert Alan Dickey, aka "Little Horsey," aka "The Baffler," aka "Darth Vader" -- that one anecdote and this book as a whole. Maybe the most cerebral of all active Major League Baseball players, a voracious reader, owner of the National League's sixth-best Wins Above Replacement value among pitchers (4.9) in 2011, and a gifted writer, Dickey has documented his own adventure, unpacked long-boxed inner thoughts and penned what deserves to be a bestseller.
The theme is his own journey, remarkable not only for its improbable and inspirational outcome but also for the way he has embraced the struggles and remained so "locked in." Is it any wonder he climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro before this season?
Brutally honest and introspective, citing sexual abuse by female and male teenagers in 1983, Dickey chronicles his own "plastic spoon" path that began as an "accident" when his mother had to get married. He writes about a cockroach-infested apartment as a boy; his parents' divorce when he was 8, when "every day was a battle to get by"; Granddaddy's knuckleball but also his whiskey and anger, causing "the worst Christmas of my life" -- and a promise Dickey would make to himself.
"I would never drink alcohol," he writes. "I would never touch the stuff. All it does is cause problems."
Indeed, Dickey's straight-and-narrowness was one reason others around him in 2000 were so astonished when, coming up with the Rangers' Oklahoma City club in Triple-A, he tested positive for what he was told were opiates, derived from the substance that produces heroin. Dickey has to give his story to the Rangers' employee-assistance program (EAP) back then, but he can't change their mind and is told to pee in a cup. Finally an EAP officer outs the culprit: The team chaplain's wife, who made such a "sumptuous" lunch at their Bible study that Dickey devoured seconds, thirds and even fourths of poppy-seed chicken casserole. Those poppy seeds had triggered the positive test result.
There are charming stories, and there are horrible stories.
The second chapter, "Summer of '83", tells of the cases of sexual abuse Dickey suffered at age 8. A 13-year-old female babysitter abused him once and then "four or five more times that summer, and into the fall, and each time feels more wicked than the time before."
That September, he writes, a boy "sixteen or seventeen years old, tall and wiry," spied Dickey outside of Nashville throwing a tennis ball off a roof behind a garage and overpowered him in a sex act.
"There is just submission and so much sadness," Dickey recalls. "I can't do anything. I close my eyes and wait for it to be over. When people ask me how I got the scratches and bruises on my face and lip, I have a ready answer. I fell down in the garage, I say."
Not until about six years ago would he ever tell anyone of the multiple abuses suffered that year.
"I become good at compartmentalizing things, boxing them away into secret places forever," he writes. "Much better that they stay boxed away forever. Things are safe in boxes."
Dickey reveals his "scrappy" side in elementary school, the kid who was paddled and whipped even harder in fights around the school, then left as a bloody heap sniffed by a stray dog.
"I never mentioned this fight to anybody, either," he writes of the second tale, and the cumulative effect of such pent-up feelings makes it pretty understandable why he is writing this book now.
There is a lot to tell and a lot to read. Take, for example, what he says of the first time he laid eyes on future wife Anne, then a seventh grader, sister of his friend Bo, and daughter of a Miss America runner-up.
"On the couch, curled up with her homework, is Bo's younger sister Anne," Dickey writes. "She has thick, blonde hair, with curls and waves, something approaching a lion's mane. She has a green sweater on over a white collared shirt. She has green eyes, and she is beautiful."
Perhaps the best pitching story is of his first Mets season.
The Phillies were the two-time defending National League champions, and he was pitching against Cole Hamels. It was Friday the 13th in August, with 35,440 fans at Citi Field, and Dickey has a no-hitter going into the fifth inning of a scoreless tie. Catcher Henry Blanco persuades him to throw a fastball, and sure enough, Dickey gets Jayson Werth for strike three looking on a "defrost pitch," where "you throw slow, slow, slow, slow, and then you heat it up in a hurry." Next he gets Shane Victorino swinging on a knuckler and Brian Schneider grounds out. The no-hitter goes into the sixth.
Hamels breaks it up with a single, the crowd gives Dickey a warm ovation, and it is the only damage of the day. Dickey throws a one-hitter, the signature moment in a belated breakout year in which he has a 2.84 ERA and an 11-9 record that should have been much better.
"There's something different about this start, and now I know what: For the first time in my big league career, I feel dominant," Dickey writes of his feeling entering the ninth. "The way I'm controlling the pitch, the consistency of my feel and my release point, the sharpness of the movement -- it's all making for a pitch that is just a beast to get a good piece of."
After that game, Dickey writes, he had a flashback to his only other Major League shutout, Aug. 20, 2003, pitching for Texas at Detroit, when Alex Rodriguez was the Rangers' shortstop.
"When A-Rod came up to congratulate me afterward, he said, You have me to thank for that," Dickey writes.
"'What do you mean?' I asked."
"I called every pitch from shortstop, A-Rod said, explaining that he relayed signs to our catcher that day, Einar Diaz."
What Dickey doesn't mention is that Rodriguez also hit a two-run bomb for him that day.
On page 286, Dickey writes about his faith and says that while praying, he would never say, "Lord, please let me strike out Albert Pujols four times tonight."
Aside from the primary point about how his praying is not goal-driven, maybe the most significant thing about that passage in the book is the sheer fact that it included quotation marks. I could find no more than a half-dozen instances of such usage.
Given the overall subject matter, sensitive and otherwise, it's hard to complain: This is how he sees it coming across, and it's his book. But it does take some getting used to as a reader who is accustomed to quotation marks in life.
There is much good advice imparted to aspiring athletes. Consider page 76, where Dickey recalls his University of Tennessee days and how he would stand on the sideline at Neyland Stadium and marvel at his friend, then-Vols QB Peyton Manning, whose command was absolute on a football field.
"His decision making, his presence, his gift for leading and making others around him believe -- they are all without peer," Dickey writes. "He is the guy you want in charge. ... I learn so much from observing him, because it's a reminder that the best pitchers are not necessarily the ones who throw the hardest or have the scouts salivating over their natural arm strength. The best pitchers are the guys who have a plan and know how to execute it -- who know how to compete and never stop doing it."
Reading "Wherever I Wind Up," you are glad that Dickey never stopped doing it, never stopped climbing the mountain on this adventure that continues with his first 2012 start during the upcoming first homestand back at Citi Field.