PHOENIX — Many big-name pitchers found reason to say no to the World Baseball Classic. R.A. Dickey was an automatic yes.
The knuckleball master, winner of the NL Cy Young Award with the New York Mets last season now plying his unorthodox trade with the Toronto Blue Jays, made it known before anyone asked him that he wished to play.
Now he will start for the United States in its WBC opener tonight against Mexico, something he calls “one of the greater privileges of my athletic career.”
At 38, Dickey is the oldest player on the U.S. roster. As such, he remembers being a part of the U.S. team at the 1996 Olympics and wants to atone for the disappointment of that bronze medal of 17 years ago.
“So this is a chance to redeem that in a lot of ways,” he said. “So I was proactive in wanting to be a part of this team. When I thought it was a possibility, I texted Tony Clark [of the MLB Players Association] and said, if there’s a spot and Joe wants me, I would love to do it.”
Needless to say, manager Joe Torre wanted him.
Dickey is one of three starting pitchers on the 28-man U.S. roster competing in Group D in Arizona and by far the biggest name. The Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong will start Saturday night against Italy, with Texas’ Derek Holland going against Canada on Sunday.
Following round robin play, the top two teams advance to the second round next week in Florida. There, a fourth starter, Washington’s Gio Gonzalez will join the fray.
Last season with the Mets, he went 20-6 with a 2.32 ERA, becoming the first knuckleballer to win the Cy Young Award. Dickey led the National League in strikeouts (230) and shutouts (three).
“I don’t feel necessarily pressure,” Dickey said, “because I feel like that’s something you put on yourself. I think it’s an incredible privilege. And I take great joy in having a gift that allows me to be here. I want to do the best I can with that gift.”