How far would you go to catch for a Cy Young Award winner? Well if you’re J.P. Arencibia, apparently you’re willing to put your body on the line – literally.
In trying to learn how to catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball, the 27-year-old Toronto Blue Jays backstop has ditched the tools of ignorance.
That’s right. According to a recent story in ESPN The Magazine when Dickey and Arencibia met in Nashville in January – where both players reside in the off-season – to play a little catch for the first time, Arencibia only brought his glove and mask. No chest protector, no shin guards. . . no cup.
And this wasn’t just two guys tossing around a baseball on some random patch of grass. This was the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner tossing the hardest pitch in baseball to catch and throwing it to someone who has never caught the pitch before.
While Arencibia has worked hard to improve the defensive side of his game and earns plaudits from the pitching staff for his pitch selection, it’s his offensive capabilities that make him a threat within the Jays lineup. Also, because knuckleballers often have a designated catcher (think Tim Wakefield and George Kotteras), Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos acquired catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas as a part of the Dickey deal in December. George Blanco is also at spring training vying for the backup catching role.
Thole has caught Dickey’s knuckleball more than any other catcher in Major League Baseball – 66 games and 424 innings – and is the one many believe could catch the knuckler again this season even if Arencibia is the undisputed starting catcher in the Jays lineup.
As the excellent wordsmith Chris Jones wrote in the story for ESPN, that in and of itself may be the reason why Arencibia decided to essentially go equipment-less when crouching in front of the most unpredictable pitch in baseball just over a month ago.
It wasn’t about proving how courageous or manly he is; rather it was a statement to the Jays management and coaching staff that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to master the art of catching the knuckleball.
Should he stay healthy Dickey will likely start in around 30 games in 2013 and as any competitor would, Arencibia wants to be a part of that action. Toronto manager John Gibbons hasn't yet made up his mind who'll be catching his new ace, who will start Opening Day against Cleveland.