Director: Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg
by Jon Cvack
Knuckleball is about two famous Knuckleball Pitchers who dig their fingernails into the ball in order to create a precarious throw that seems to bounce in the air. While once a popular style, it has now been replaced by the 90mph+ throwers and extensive bullpens who rely on speed, power, and volume rather than trick. One of these men is Boston Red Sox’s pitcher Tim Wakefield, who’s trying to reach is 200th win, with his fortieth birthday just around the corner, and New York Met’s R.A. Dickey, who’s been juggling between minor and major league play, and would go on to compete for the Cy Young Award in 2012; basically the Academy Award of Pitching recognition.
Of course, most sport documentaries rely on the underdog. While Wakefield is close to reaching a 200th win, his aging body is prolonging the process. We discover the fine balance between the Red Sox org respecting the fans and remaining competitive. In a game that praises new records, management would like Wakefield to hit 200, but his season isn’t looking good and the fans are growing impatient. The documentary honors the formula of making you doubt it’ll ever happen, with Wakefield hitting bottom by being pulled off the starting roster, before finally finding his groove and hitting the goal.
On the other hand you have the up and comer, and soon-to-be-remaining Knuckballer R.A. Dickey, who tests his family’s patience by moving around the country at a whim; taking whatever job necessary to get him closer to The Show. We’re shown what it’s like for the lower class of players, who in any given day, could be traded or pushed back to the farm, forced to pack up all his things and move across the country. He’s played for the Rangers, Brewers, Twins, Mariners, and now the Blue Jays, and while this documentary was being filmed, actually managed to have one of the most competitive seasons in baseball, going on to be the first Knuckleballer in history to win the NL Cy Young Award, leaving you wondering if the filmmakers might have wanted to keep the cameras rolling a bit longer in order to have captured the moment.
A lot of people accuse baseball of being boring, myself once included, but the more you learn the more you discover how complicated the sport is, and that for any given game, you’re actually watching the top .0001% of players (or somewhere around there). It’s a game about patience, strategy, and psychology. It was fascinating to watch Wakefield struggle, leaving you wondering if his struggle was because the record was eating at him so heavily - along with his aging body - leaving him unable to preserve the momentum. Then you have the Cinderella story of R.A. Dickey, who by any measureable statistics, looked destined to remain jumping between minor and major league ball, only to find his stride when he was 38 years old (when most baseball players peak at the age of 27).
When Wakefield decides to retire shortly after pitching his 200th win, and R.A. Dickey struggles to find his place, we get to see what the game means to these people. Only those who are most committed can stand to achieve greatness, and at the end of the day, it appears purely biological. Still, having worked their whole lives to reach this point, and even with the benefit of staying in the game long past their prime, we see what it’s like to have to give up or consider throwing in the towel. For these men, the game is what matters most, and when retirement arrives, you feel for them as they wonder what they could possibly do next. The story’s a little purply at point, but that’s just what you expect from a Sports Documentary (and one produced by the MLB). It’s still a great summer time flick for between the games.
BELOW: R.A. Dickey tossing some knuckleballs
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