LitStack Rec: Knuckleball Ned & I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place

Knuckleball Nedknucklehead
R.A. Dickey

Tuesday night was Major League Baseball’s All Star Game, and in honor of the mid-season classic, my recommendation for this week is a fun and uplifting children’s book written by one of baseball’s most interesting active players: Cy Young award winning knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey.

Written for his four children, this large format picture book is the story of Ned, an ordinary youngster – well, a youngster who is, actually, a type of baseball. (All the characters in the book have baseballs for heads.) Ned’s a good kid, but for his entire life, he’s wobbled. He’s worried about being made fun of at school because of this, but his mother tells him not to worry, and just be himself.
Ned does make friends at school, including affable but huge Sammy the Softball and Connie Curveball (who loves to dance like a ballerina) but his wobbles do attract the attention of the nasty Foul Ball Gang, who love to bully the other baseballs… er, kids. In the end, however, Ned’s special wobble saves the day, and the message that being different isn’t bad shines through.

You don’t need to know that, in baseball, knuckleballs are tricky pitches that have virtually no spin and therefore are erratic and unpredictable, and knuckleball pitchers are extremely rare due to the difficulty of throwing the pitch effectively. (R.A. Dickey is currently the only established knuckleball pitcher on an MLB roster.) You don’t need to know that curveballs seem to dance across the plate or that softballs are huge and, well, soft. Knowing these things makes the book more precious, but they are not necessary in order to understand the intent of the book – that everyone is valuable, no matter who they are.

The illustrations, by Tim Bowers, are somewhat goofy (c’mon – these folks have baseballs for heads!), but they have a surprisingly lovely touch. Kids will actually really love the goofy aspect to the story, and parents, especially those who understand a bit about baseball, will be charmed. At a time when many of our sports heroes seem to be less than adequate role models for our children, R.A. Dickey’s efforts – and message – hits it out of the park.*

* Okay, so that might not be the best “winning” metaphor for a pitcher, being that a homerun means he has not exactly done his job well, but I couldn’t resist!

—Sharon Browning