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R.A. Dickey
April 02, 2012
R.A. Dickey writes of confronting the darker sides of human nature—and the meeting that turned his baseball career around
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April 02, 2012

Moments That Make The Man

R.A. Dickey writes of confronting the darker sides of human nature—and the meeting that turned his baseball career around

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It's 2001, and I'm getting my first taste of the majors, at age 26, with the Rangers. I'm throwing the ball pretty well, starting to believe that I can get big league hitters out, slowly settling into the daily rhythms of life in the big leagues.

In the bathroom one day before a game, I turn to get a towel after washing my hands and notice something underneath one of the stall partitions. I take a step closer.

It is a syringe.

The sight of it makes me cringe, the shiny thin needle lying randomly on the tile floor. My mind races with thoughts about how and why it got there. I know as much about needles as I do about jewelry, but I'm pretty sure this isn't a sewing needle. I don't know if this syringe injected a Ranger with insulin or cortisone or B[subscript 12] or anabolic steroids, though you can hazard a guess when you run through the roster of my muscle-laden teammates. I'd never seen a syringe in a baseball clubhouse before. I've not seen one since. It may have been used for the most benign of purposes, but the mere sight of it makes me feel as though I am looking straight at Evil—like seeing a weapon somebody left behind at a crime scene.

I walk out of the bathroom and never tell anybody what I saw. I try hard to think the best, but whatever chemical residue is in that particular syringe, there's no denying the scope of the wreckage caused by needles around baseball, and by all the artificially fueled feats that came with them. I know two things about performance-enhancing drugs: they are pervasive, and I hate them, because they have hurt the game, and hurt me too. How many long balls hit by juicers would've died on the track and gotten me out of an inning if not for the extra muscle? How many balls muscled over the infield would've wound up in guys' gloves? I will never know. Nobody will. I don't stay up nights thinking about it. I don't forget the sight of the syringe on the bathroom floor, either.

A hot night in the middle of a hot Nashville summer, and the air is as sticky as cotton candy. I am heading into fourth grade. I've spent the whole summer doing summer things: going swimming, staying up past my bedtime, playing baseball.

One Saturday my mother tells me she is going out that night and is leaving my sister and me with a babysitter. It's somebody new, my mother says. She's supposed to be very nice.

We drive over to a condominium and my mother introduces me to the new sitter. She is 13, a tall girl with an athletic physique and fair skin and long brown hair. She does seem nice. My mother goes over the basics—bath, bedtime routine—and lets her know what time she'll be back.

The babysitter and I are alone in the foyer. How old are you now? she asks.

Eight, I reply.

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