The civic club speech was “Highly favored, richly blessed.”
My modest remarks included tidbits about Sarah and Tom Siler and Ralph Millett and Roland Julian and a who’s-who of Tennessee sports names that are or were at least a small part of my life – all the way back to Nathan W. Dougherty, who tipped a nickel each week for newspaper delivery, Robert R. Neyland when he was bigger than his bronze statue and even an interesting sophomore tailback, John Majors, in a 1954 geography class.
“Any questions?” said the host.
From a face in the crowd: “Of all those, the hundreds or a thousand, who was the most interesting?”
I was suddenly speechless. No way I was going to answer that. No way.
But the wheels started whirring. Stu Aberdeen. Condredge Holloway. Dewey Warren. Richmond Flowers. Ernie Grunfeld. Ray Bussard. Peyton Manning. Willie Gault. Pat Summitt. Howard Bayne. Steve Kiner. A.W. Davis. Reggie White. Chuck Rohe.
I shook my head and said there were too many interesting choices. I offered the valid excuse that the mind plays tricks in old age and got the heck out of there – to a standing ovation I am sure. After all, others were leaving, too.
That afternoon, “most interesting” came back time and time again. I thought of Coppley Vickers and Doug Atkins and Phil Garner and Lester McClain and Orby Lee Bowling.
More and more, many more.
I finally got around to Robert Allen Dickey, baseball pitcher and English lit major of the mid-1990s, avid reader, academic All-American, Olympic star.
He was the first-round draft choice who lost $735,000 in bonus money when the Texas Rangers discovered his right elbow lacked an ulnar collateral ligament.
He did the bounce-around, sometimes here but mostly there. I recalled an unusual game with the Buffalo Bisons against the Durham Bulls. R.A. gave up a leadoff single and retired the next 27 batters.
He eventually got paid, as in many millions, when he mastered the rare art of delivering an angry knuckleball, not a butterfly, for strikes. He had one-hitters back to back and set a bunch of records.
He won 20 games and the National League Cy Young Award in 2012 with the New York Mets. He got a really big payday from the Toronto Blue Jays. He will appear this summer, at age 42, with the Atlanta Braves.
Dickey is married to Anne Bartholomew of the famous Middle Tennessee football family. They have four children.
He is very interesting. He is the only former Vol to have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. He got that urge from his boyhood read of Hemingway. His risky mission was to raise funds and awareness for one of his charitable projects, the prevention or reduction of trafficking of women in India.
Dickey is an evangelical Christian who helps Honoring the Father ministries in Ocala, Fla. It sends medical supplies, powdered milk and baseball equipment to impoverished youth in Latin America.
He has been profiled on “60 Minutes” and featured in The New Yorker.
He wrote a very personal book, a jagged, cutting memoir, “Wherever I Wind Up,” that describes sexual abuse by a baby sitter, tough times growing up with an alcoholic mother, his sins as a husband and how close he came to suicide.
R.A. Dickey is the only ex-Vol with an honorary doctorate from Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. He spoke to graduates of the Anglican theological school.
“This life is about changing other lives; it’s about introducing people to the hope of Christ.”
Dickey has been called the smartest player in baseball. I can’t substantiate that. Some of the stuff he reads and talks about is above my understanding.
I can say, based on Tennessee sports family standards, he is very interesting. So is Joshua Dobbs.