R.A. Dickey stood atop the world's highest free-standing mountain Saturday, overwhelmed not just by the arduous journey it took to get him 19,400 feet above the African continent, but by the dead silence that surrounded him.
"You literally felt for a moment that you were the only person that existed," Dickey said. "That was a neat thing."
As he prepared for his induction into the Tennessee Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, Dickey felt completely different. And it was still pretty neat.
Reunited with two of his former coaches, new UT baseball coach Dave Serrano and assistant coach Bill Mosiello, Dickey did everything he could to spin this individual achievement into a team effort.
"I'm certainly aware that I am no more than the product of people that poured into me well and loved on me well while I was here," said the 37-year-old Dickey, who played at UT 1994-96 before his first-round selection in the 1996 MLB draft. "Whatever level of talent I've brought into UT from high school, they certainly cultivated it in a way that is what's being honored tonight. It's as much their award as it is mine."
Dickey, now a top starter with the New York Mets after a knuckleball-infused revitalization to his career, became the 18th person inducted into the Hall of Fame, an honor that was celebrated at Wednesday's Leadoff Banquet at Knoxville Convention Center.
It marked Dickey's first trip back to Knoxville since 1998. He's been to plenty of places in the meantime, a list that most recently includes Mount Kilimanjaro.
"It was the most grueling physical thing I've ever done in my life," Dickey said. "It was as grueling as waking up at 5 in the morning with Bill Mosiello and running around the campus."
Always intrigued by the mountain because of Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," which he read in seventh grade, Dickey planned the trip midway through the 2011 season and teamed with
The Bombay Teen Challenge to make it a charitable endeavor. Dickey and his two climbing partners, Colorado Rockies pitcher Kevin Slowey and Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello, raised more than $100,000 for The Bombay Teen Challenge, which raises awareness and helps victims of sex trafficking in India.
The money will go toward the purchase of a building in between two brothels in Mumbai, Dickey said.
"What this organization does is it goes in there and helps rescue those girls out of there," Dickey said. "It treats them because most of them already have HIV and it teaches them a trade and being free and having a different kind of life."
Dickey, the only three-time First Team All-American in UT baseball history, always has lived his life differently than most. So much so that an offseason climb up Mount Kilimanjaro — a trip that initially didn't mesh well with Mets ownership — barely elicited more than a shoulder shrug from Serrano.
"He's sometimes off the wall in a good way," said Serrano, who was an assistant coach at UT during Dickey's final two seasons with the Vols. "Very, very competitive in everything that he did.
"He never liked to lose in anything whether it was running a sprint, running a mile, pitching a game, anything, he wanted to be the best. That's why I think he's persevered through different situations in his career to be where he's at."
That competitive drive came through for Dickey, who detailed the climb on a daily basis for the New York Times, during the final stretch of the 52-mile hike up the mountain. His group had passed a number of others that called it quits short of the summit, and he was starting to see things that weren't real.
"I thought to myself, 'I've come all this way and I'm not going to be able to summit,' " Dickey recalled. "Fortunately, that time kind of came and went and I got a second wind and was able to push on. There were a lot of people that did have that fate."
Dickey's baseball career has twice gone away from the Major League level for more than a year at a time. Formerly a hard-thrower who set single-season records for wins and innings pitched at UT, Dickey embraced the knuckleball after training with the likes of Charlie Hough, Phil Neikro and Tim Wakefield.
For what he considered the first time in his Major League career, Dickey won't have to worry about landing a roster spot during spring training.
His standing at the top level is as sturdy as it's ever been. How he got there, much like his ascent up Mount Kilimanjaro, was far from the beaten path.
"The journey hasn't been easy but it's coming at the right time for me," Dickey said. "I'm able to really relish it now, and I'm thankful for that."