“Knuckleball!”

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This movie was more enjoyable, and in a different way, than I had expected.

The theater’s writeup:

“Knuckleball! is the story of a few good men, a handful of pitchers in the entire history of baseball forced to resort to the lowest rung on the credibility ladder in their sport: throwing a ball so slow and unpredictable that no one wants anything to do with it.

The film follows the Major League’s only knuckleballers in 2011, Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey, as they pursue a mercurial art form in a world that values speed, accuracy, and numerical accountability.

Red Sox pitcher Wakefield is the 17-year veteran and fan favorite weeks away from turning 45 (the oldest player in the game) and seven victories away from the remarkable and deeply personal milestone of 200 career wins. Dickey is the charismatic and articulate 34 year-old neophyte trying to fight his way out of the minor league system with the New York Mets.

With extraordinary access from the players and Major League Baseball, the film follows their personal quests with behind-the-scenes moments at the ballpark, on the road, and at home with family.

It never really explained why knuckleballers are so poorly regarded — I would think a pitch that is unhittable would be a GOOD thing for a team to have? — but I did learn a lot about this particular technique.  I expected that much — and, not being much of a sports fan, there was a lot of room for learning.   But, it didn’t talk down to me or over my head.  It was a nice documentary about the careers of two young men who came off as pretty likable — I hadn’t expected that part.   The parts about the anguish of failing and going back down a notch were interesting (they went back up, too).  Also, there were appearances by older players, who I had not realized were knuckleball pitchers.  They also came off as decent people (“came off as”?  If I think of a more mellifluous phrase I will substitute it later).

The only off-note was seeing Tim Wakefield’s pseudo-Mediterranean mega-mansion in Melbourne, Florida.  Admittedly real estate down there is much less expensive (I see a 5-bedroom, 4-bath, 2600 sf pseudo-Med on half an acre, built in 2005 advertised just over $500K, and regular houses for regular people around half that), but it still seemed over the top and not in keeping with the fellow we’d just been watching for a hour or so.  And of course it pointed out how excessively large the salaries of celebrity sports figures are.  But that is what our culture rewards — I wouldn’t expect Tim Wakefield or any player to negotiate a salary downward.  And, having it, I would agree he’s entitled to spend it as he likes.

Edited November 14, 2012: R.A. Dickey, the other knuckleballer in the documentary, has just won the Cy Young Award — so there’s a little respect for the style!

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