PHOENIX — Success hasn't come easily for R.A. Dickey. That might make him the perfect pitcher for the World Baseball Classic.
An event too many front office executives fear, too many top players avoid and too few American fans truly embrace has made it to its third edition.
While play has been under way for a week in Asia, Team USA opens play Friday night at Chase Field against Mexico, which is coming off a shocking loss to Anthony Rizzo and the Italians. Good seats are still available.
Dickey, the National League Cy Young winner, was an easy choice to be Joe Torre's starter. His knuckleball figures to be a challenge for Blue Jays' teammate J.P. Arencibia, who probably won't catch him regularly during the season, but he craved the chance to represent his country, as he had done in the 1996 Olympics.
Justin Verlander, David Price and Clayton Kershaw were among the scores of American players able but unwilling to try to help their country improve its stunningly mediocre 7-7 record in the event.
"I'm here because this is one of the greater privileges of my athletic career,'' the 38-year-old Dickey said Thursday. "That's how I see it.''
Dickey won 20 games for the Mets but did not receive the contract extension he sought. Instead he comes to Arizona representing the Blue Jays, his fifth organization.
"I was proactive in wanting to be a part of this team,'' Dickey said. "When I thought it was a possibility, I texted (players union staffer) Tony Clark and said, 'If there's a spot and Joe wants me, I would love to do it.'"
Dickey is unique among his peers. He was a first-round draft pick out of college but was found to have an abnormal structure to his elbow when the Rangers gave him a physical.
The Rangers had talked money with him before the draft, then agreed on an $810,000 bonus. It was off the board when he failed the physical — he was missing the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow — and Rangers' general manager Doug Melvin figured he was going to return to the University of Tennessee for his senior season.
"He told us, no, he wanted to start his career anyway,'' Melvin said. "We said we would only offer $75,000. I told him, 'I'm sorry, but that's the best we can do,' and he took it. He really wanted to play.''
Dickey reached the big leagues at 26 but had little success until he turned 30 and worked to turn his hard forkball into a hard knuckleball, which he made his primary pitch. He was 35 before he stuck in a big league rotation, and the chance came with a Mets team that was bad enough to get Jerry Manuel fired.
Dickey is an adventurer off the field, swimming long distances in rivers and even traveling to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. He says he has been "very humbled'' by his journey.
"My life has been much about second chances, and not just second chances but third chances and fourth chances,'' Dickey said. "Anything that I've done has been the product of people who have poured into me and loved me well. … It has been great at every turn the last year or two. It has been very satisfying.''
Dickey loved his experience in Atlanta during the Olympics, although he was disappointed that the U.S. won only a bronze medal. He hopes that he and his USA teammates can get on a roll this weekend that will help more Americans understand why international baseball can be fun, like October baseball.
"It's not about talent as much as it's about spirit, heart, desire,'' Dickey said. "In international tournament competition, talent doesn't always win.''
Italy wasn't supposed to have as much talent as Mexico, but Rizzo's two-run double off Giants closer Sergio Romo gave it a victory few saw coming. Those kind of results happen in the WBC, which may yet get over its awkwardness, just like Dickey firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter @ChiTribRogers