The knuckleball, I know, is a big part of the story. It’s a big part of who I am. But I’ve never really thought of myself as being different, not really, not in comparison to other pitchers and certainly not in comparison to the people who come watch us play.
What I am, I believe, is someone who got a bunch of second chances and took advantage of them, who persevered through adversity. I hope that comes through as much as anything else in this book. I think there are lessons in that for all of us. I know there were for me.
People look at the knuckleball differently than they do other pitches — they’re fascinated by it. I understand why. People have asked me all kinds of questions about the knuckleball over the years — how I grip it, why it does what it does, whether I ever get frustrated by it. That last question is one I’ve always found interesting, because people sometimes talk about it as if it were a person, as if I had a relationship with it. No one would ever ask Pedro Martinez about his changeup or Josh Beckett about his curveball the same way they ask me about my knuckleball, but I also understand there are differences. If one pitch isn’t working for those guys, they can try something else. I really can’t.
For roughly 20 years as a professional pitcher, I’ve thrown the knuckleball on almost every pitch. It’s worked for me most of the time. When it hasn’t, I’ve simply chalked it up to the balancing forces of baseball, the way any pitcher would.
I don’t resent the knuckleball. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I love the knuckleball. It has given me a long career to be proud of and provided for my wife, Stacy, and two children, Trevor and Brianna. It’s allowed me to meet people I might never have met, experience things I might never have been able to experience, and help people in ways I might never have been able to help.
Before I joined the Red Sox in 1995, I thought my career might be over. I was still learning about the knuckleball, and I knew almost nothing about Boston or about the Red Sox other than what I had learned from one of my college roommates, Tom Krystock, who was a Red Sox fan. Tom was from Connecticut and convinced me to go with him to Fenway Park, where we took in a handful of games. I never imagined then that Boston and Fenway would become my home, that I would pitch in nearly 300 games there and be part of two world championship teams. And I never imagined that Boston would accept me the way it has, that the people there would welcome me as part of their community, that Boston would be as much a home to me as Melbourne, Florida, where I grew up and played college baseball.
Sometime during my career in Boston — I can’t remember exactly when — someone asked one of my teammates, Derek Lowe, about what it was like to pitch at Fenway Park. What made Fenway diff erent? Derek told them that when he pitched in other, bigger stadiums, he would look into the stands and see colors. But at Fenway, when he stood on the mound, he would look into the crowd and see faces. I always thought that was a great way to describe how special it is to pitch at Fenway Park, for the Red Sox and for their fans. The experience is just more intimate. To me, Boston always has felt like a neighborhood more than a city, the kind of place, like Cheers, where everybody knows your name and you know theirs. It’s one of the things I love most about playing there. People talk about “Red Sox Nation” all the time now, but it really is true. To me, the Red Sox and their fans are a community unlike any other in sports, and I’ve been blessed to be a part of it. I’ve invested in Boston during my time there, and I feel like Boston has invested in me.
In that way, especially, I’ve been very fortunate. Over the course of baseball history, other knuckleballers have had their own communities too. Hoyt Wilhelm. Phil and Joe Niekro. Wilbur Wood. Charlie Hough and Tom Candiotti. The list goes on. I’ve had the chance to meet most of those guys and to talk to them about the knuckler, to share an experience that has made us some of the most unique pitchers in baseball history. The knuckleball has taken us all through some unpredictable dips and turns, but we all owe everything we’ve accomplished to a pitch that, to me, is unlike any other in baseball.
I hope this book gives you some idea as to what it has been like to live with the knuckleball for the last 20 years or so.
And I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I have.
This excerpt is also available on Scribd.