TORONTO (Reuters) - The way to catch a knuckleball, famously explained former-Major League catcher Bob Uecker, is to wait until it stops rolling and then pick it up.
It is of course not the preferred technique but it was one used frequently by Toronto Blue Jays J.P. Arencibia on Tuesday when he was handed the opening night assignment catching for Cy Young knuckleballer R.A. Dickey in 4-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians.
”It was dancing in, out, up that makes it tough,“ Arencibia told reporters. ”You talk to any knuckleball catcher, it’s going to happen.
”It’s a challenge, the first thing they told me was you’re going to miss balls, you’re going to miss balls when there are guys on third base and they are going to score.
“You have to put it behind you because there are going to be pitches he throws that no one could have caught unless you have a fish net that is for large fish.”
The knuckleball is baseball’s most confounding pitch, dipping, darting and fluttering towards the plate fooling catchers as easily as it baffles batters with its unpredictable flight path.
For opening night, at least, Dickey’s dipsey-doodling knuckleball provided more trouble for Arencibia than Cleveland batters.
The Toronto catcher was charged with three passed balls while several other pitches eluded him. Dickey was also unable to escape his Blue Jays debut unscathed, surrendering five hits, four runs, including a fifth inning homer, along with four walks and just four strikeouts in six innings of work.
”It’s a tough thing to do for anybody, even the guys that are really good at it,“ said Dickey, defending his catcher. ”And J.P. is still learning and has great aptitude and a willingness to learn and I am sure he’ll identify whatever it was that inhibited him tonight and fix it.
“Sometimes you throw a good knuckleball and nobody is catching it, that’s just the way it is.”
If knuckleballers are a rarity, the men capable of catching them are no less a curiosity.
There is a reason knuckballers and the men who catch them usually come in a packaged deal and when Dickey was traded to Toronto from the New York Mets he came with his own personal valets in catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas.
The Blue Jays also went out and signed Henry Blanco, who also caught for Dickey in New York and will likely get the start the next time the knuckleballer takes the hill.
But for opening night, Toronto manager John Gibbons went against conventional wisdom and handing the job to Arencibia after he and Dickey seemed to connect playing together for Team USA at the World Baseball Classic.
Despite Arencibia’s opening night woes, Gibbons assured the big-hitting catcher would be back behind the plate again catching Dickey.
”During Spring Training we talked about him catching Dickey and we thought he was going to have a hard time with it and we brought in Thole and Blanco for that reason,“ explained Toronto manager John Gibbons. ”But after watching him a few outings and at the WBC he did nice job with it and why we made the switch.
”Anytime you catch a knuckleballer, I don’t care who it is, you are going to miss a few balls.
“It wasn’t an easy night in his first go round in a game that really counted but I’ve seen knuckleballers in the past and they get their own personal catchers and they have balls they miss too.”
Editing by Patrick Johnston