NEW YORK -- R.A. Dickey, the knuckleball specialist who faced the Pirates on Thursday in a quest for his 20th victory, is often compared to Tim Wakefield based on their pitching styles and on how both had to persevere through hard times to stardom. Jeff Banister is a guy in the best position to confirm those comparisons. "Timmy essentially paved the way for Dickey," said the Bucs' bench coach, whose tenure in the organization not only dates back to Wakefield's 1992-93 debut with the Pirates, but who used to be his Minor League teammate.
"Wakefield and I commiserated to each other about tough at-bats," said Banister, recalling the fact that the Pirates actually drafted -- eighth round, 1988 -- the future 200-game winner as a first baseman. "Neither one of us could hit," Banister continued. "He'd fool around with a knuckleball when we'd play catch before games, and one day our manager, Woody Huyke, saw the action on that thing and suggested he might want to try pitching. "That's how the whole thing began. Wake threw a fairly-hard knuckleball at first, but then he lost the feel for that and had to return to the Minors to figure out a different, softer way to throw it. And he learned to throw it at different speeds. He had to re-invent himself." Hence the analogies between the recently-retired Boston great and Dickey, who also throws a variable-speed knuckler, as opposed to the classic floater, and is a 37-year-old hailed as a master of reinvention.