THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO — Last month, the Toronto Blue Jays had a 72-hour window to work out a new deal with R.A. Dickey to close out a trade with the New York Mets for the veteran right-hander.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos pitched his vision of what the Blue Jays would be now and in the future. Dickey immediately liked what he heard.
"I was all in right then," Dickey said. "I think this can be a special few years for this city, for the country and all the players here."
Dickey agreed to a two-year contract extension worth US$25 million with a club option for 2016. He will be an anchor in a much-improved starting rotation that will likely include Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and incumbents Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero.
Dickey was all smiles Tuesday afternoon as he was formally introduced by the team at a packed news conference at Rogers Centre. For the next 40 minutes, he eloquently weighed in on the peaks and valleys of the journey that brought him to this point.
The 38-year-old knuckleballer touched on highs like winning the 2012 National League Cy Young Award. He also discussed the challenge of baring his soul in an autobiography where he divulged he was twice the victim of sexual abuse while growing up.
With Dickey, there are no cliches, no bling and no attitude.
The friendly Nashville native sat attentively at the dais with his fingers intertwined, offering informative and thoughtful answers to a range of questions.
"For the longest time I kind of fought who I was and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to live through that into a period where I enjoy embracing who I feel like I am," Dickey said. "That’s taken a lot of encouragement and a lot of hard work.
"What you see is what you get. The hope is that none of it is ever manufactured."
Dickey broke into the majors with the Texas Rangers in 2001 and bounced between triple-A and the major leagues for years. He settled in with the Mets in 2010 and posted impressive numbers over three straight seasons, capped by his 20-6 effort last year to go with a sparkling 2.73 earned-run average.
It took him years to make the conversion from regular pitcher to full-time knuckleballer. Dickey recalled throwing his first "really good knuckleball" in the big leagues in 2005 with the Rangers against Raul Ibanez.
"It didn’t rotate a smidgen and he swung, his helmet fell off and he went down to his back knee and I remember thinking, ‘This is kind of fun you know,"’ Dickey said with a smile. "Of course the next pitch I think was hit over the fence.
"But the point being that was the first kind of glimpse."
He developed true consistency with the slow-moving, fluttering pitch in late 2009 and it became a true weapon for him with the Mets in 2010. Dickey’s eyes lit up when he talked about using different speeds and making slight changes to his knuckleball in the future.
"That’s what’s so fun about the pitch, is that I still have more to learn," he said. "I’m still hungry and passionate about my craft."
Dickey originally hoped to sign a contract extension with New York but the two sides could not reach an agreement. After the trade, he thanked the Mets and their fans in a letter published in the New York Daily News.
Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas also joined the Blue Jays in the deal with John Buck, Wuilmer Becerra and highly-touted prospects Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard going to the Mets. It was a price Anthopoulos was willing to pay.
"Guys like this don’t come around very often," he said.
Toronto hasn’t made the playoffs in almost two decades. The Blue Jays are coming off a 73-89 season but Anthopoulos has dramatically reshaped the roster this off-season.
Dickey said it will be fun to call himself a Canadian for six months of the year and is looking forward to playing on a team that will be expected to contend in the American League East.
He has made a few visits to Rogers Centre over his career and said he would often think about the stadium’s history when he entered the park, including Joe Carter’s memorable World Series-winning home run in 1993.
"It was always a place that offered good pedigree and it had a legacy," he said. "I think one of the hopes is that we’re going to get back to that place."