Knucklers convention for Wright, Dickey, Wakefield

Knucklers convention for Wright, Dickey, Wakefield
February 25, 2013, 2:30 pm
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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Knuckleballers are a notoriously tight fraternity, a small but loyal group. So when three of them -- two active -- are in the same spring training ballpark, it's noteworthy.
Such was the case Monday when, in advance of a matchup between Toronto's R.A. Dickey and the Red Sox' Steven Wright, Tim Wakefield paid a visit to Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, there was a quorum of knuckleballers.
Wakefield was there to take a look at Wright and offer some pointers, but enjoyed the attention the pitch he threw for 19 seasons was getting.
How odd was it that Wakefield was about to watch a matchup of knucklers? Consider that, over his career, Wakefield recalled only one game in which he faced a fellow knuckler -- matched against Tom Candiotti of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1992.
"(Being in the National League) I had to hit against him, too," said Wakefield, smiling at the memory. "That wasn't fun."
On Monday, he was more in the role of observer, but relishing the opportunity to see two members of the fraternity.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Wakefield, "not only to see R.A. pitch, but also, this is my first opportunity to see Steven pitch. I'm looking forward to working with him."
Wright pitched two scoreless innings against Toronto, striking out three and allowing two hits. Wakefield will travel to Fort Myers for the remainder of the week and work with Wright on his scheduled side session Wednesday.
"I can offer the same thing the guys before me offered me -- someone to talk to, who knows about the pitch that he's throwing," said Wakefield. "When I was first coming up, I had pitching coaches who told me, 'I don't know what to tell you; I don't know anything about it."
In that way, Wakefield is helping to pay it forward.
"It's refreshing to contribute to the legacy of the pitch by helping him out," said Wakefield. "I had Phil and Joe Niekro and Charlie (Hough) and Candiotti around when I was learning. To be able to give back to someone who's taken up the pitch, is pretty special for me."
Wakefield has noticed an increase in the attention being given to the pitch, from the release of the documentary (italics please) Knuckleball (end italics) to Dickey winning the 2012 N.L. Cy Young Award to MLB TV's recent reality series.
"It's gained some popularity," said Wakefield. "It's not so much a freak pitch. It's something we all battled, from Phil to me to Wilbur Wood. In R.A.'s words, he brought the legitimacy of the pitch back by winning the Cy Young. He made all of us proud. That broke down a barrier."
Wakefield hadn't seen Wright before Monday, but knows that Wright throws his signature pitch harder than Wakefield did.
"That's fine -- I wish I could have thrown my harder, but I couldn't," he said. "I was just not blessed with the arm speed. But R.A. throws his just as hard and he won the Cy Young. I told (Wright), 'I don't care how hard you throw it. I don't care how you hold it.' The big key is repeating your delivery and taking the spin off it consistently."
Manager John Farrell thinks the time spent with Wakefield will be beneficial for Wright.
"Those interactions are invaluable," he said. "I'm sure R.A. can probably speak to some of those same interactions when he was out in Seattle. It's such a tight-knit fraternity. To have a guy with him that's blazed a long successful trail, I'm sure he'll take advantage of it.
"With every pitch thrown, there will be the ability to see his delivery. one of the checkpoints Wake used so much was, 'Where is head positioned in relation to the ball being released?' So I'm sure he'll be able to lock in on the basic checkpoints that he used and ones that are pretty common for most if not all knuckleballers.
Wakefield is the third member of the 2004 World Series them that the Sox have brought in this spring, following Jason Varitek and Pedro Martinez.
"It's nice to add some more people to that list of guys that knew what it meant to wear a Red Sox uniform,'' said Wakefield, "and knew what it was like to compete at the major league level for a long period of time. We're kind of a sounding board for guys. I think that's a valuable asset the organization has taken pride in -- bringing in guys like 'Tek or Pedro or me back to the organization to help guys win."
Wakefield doesn't have an official role or title. For now, he's serving an unofficial mentor to Wright.
"I see Stephen's career unfolding kind of like R.A.'s did," said Wakefield. "R.A. was a conventional guy, kind of lost the velocity and couldn't get outs anymore and he switched to the knuckleball and ended up winning the Cy Young last year."