Fulfilling a long-time dream, R.A. Dickey found himself at the top of the world — literally.
The former Montgomery Bell Academy and University of Tennessee star, who currently pitches for the New York Mets, spoke about his almost out-of-this-world experience Thursday at a Lipscomb University luncheon.
He has also finished writing a book, which is due for release next month.
In early January, Dickey and two baseball friends made the 40-mile trek to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, which is the highest free-standing mountain in the world at 19,341 feet.
He, along with Rockies pitcher Kevin Slowey and Mets catcher Dave Racaniello, made the journey with the help of guides. They did so to raise awareness for Bombay Teen Challenge, an organization which rescues and cares for women and girls in Mumbai who are at risk of being abused and exploited and where the HIV disease is rampant.
“It took 18-and-a-half hours of flight time just to get there [to Tanzania],” Dickey said. “Here I am, a 37-year-old knuckleball pitcher with a wife and four children trying something like this. I didn’t think it would be as difficult as it proved to be. But I’m glad I did it. Our guides were a picture of strength and endurance, and amazingly, they only make about $8 a day.
“There was a point there I wasn’t sure I would make it. There were a couple of people who died who were trying it two days before, and I learned there were three more who died about a week later.
“The day before we made our final ascent, Joshua, one of the guides, handed me a cup of tea. Because I was so lightheaded, I missed the cup by six inches on the right, then when I reached for it again I missed it by about six inches on the left. He finally just took my hand and handed it to me. The air is so thin up there.
“Once we got to the top, it was like no other feeling you’ve ever experienced. At that point, you’re about 2,000 feet above cloud level, and you’ve got a view unlike anywhere else in the world.
“The Mets organization wasn’t exactly thrilled I was doing this. They wrote a letter to me saying that if I got injured doing something like this, they could void my contract. But after I made it, one of the owners wrote a big check for the [Bombay Teen Care] cause.”
Dickey is an amazing story in his own right.
His well-chronicled baseball journey found him apparently washed up in 2005 after he developed arm problems. But with the help of Charlie Hough and Phil Niekro, experts of the pitch, he developed a knuckleball, which prolonged his career and helped keep him in the majors.
Even when he helped MBA to the 1993 state baseball championship as a senior, though, he had ways to keep hitters off balance.
In the final game against Germantown, he had three innings left to pitch by TSSAA tournament rules. As his coach, the late Fred Forehand, brought him in for the fifth inning to close the game, Dickey told him "watch this."
“On my final warm-up pitch, I intentionally threw it halfway up the screen behind the backstop. The Germantown fans went wild, they were all over me, screaming ‘R.A., Rag Arm,’ the whole bit.
“I struck out the first batter on three pitches, and I think I struck out five of the last six guys I faced. We won 2-1 on a run in the bottom of the seventh.”
Dickey was also a pitcher for the U.S. baseball team, which won a bronze medal in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
He has written a book called Wherever I Wind Up, due for release March 29. It is available on Amazon.com.
“It’s just a collection of memoirs, experiences, what I did at an early age, making a lot of mistakes and getting through some tough situations,” he said.
Getting through a trip up Mount Kilimanjaro would certainly be at the top of the list.