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Dickey living the dream of playing for Braves

Veteran knuckleballer was huge fan growing up in Tennessee
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- R.A. Dickey has pitched in six organizations and with five Major League clubs over the course of the past 20 seasons. But before being officially introduced by the Braves on Friday, the veteran knuckleballer had never donned the jersey of the team he and his late father passionately followed throughout his childhood in Tennessee.

"I don't think I've ever been as emotional putting on a jersey," Dickey said. "It brings back a lot of sweet memories. It makes me more motivated and excited to make a contribution to this organization. So, there are a lot of things that played into it. It's special, very special."

ATLANTA -- R.A. Dickey has pitched in six organizations and with five Major League clubs over the course of the past 20 seasons. But before being officially introduced by the Braves on Friday, the veteran knuckleballer had never donned the jersey of the team he and his late father passionately followed throughout his childhood in Tennessee.

"I don't think I've ever been as emotional putting on a jersey," Dickey said. "It brings back a lot of sweet memories. It makes me more motivated and excited to make a contribution to this organization. So, there are a lot of things that played into it. It's special, very special."

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Whether listening via a transistor radio or watching games on TBS, Dickey was a passionate fan of Braves teams that spanned from the days of Dale Murphy and Bob Horner to the more memorable years during which Tom Glavine and John Smoltz helped build something special in Atlanta.

Now, Dickey has a chance to play a key role as he optimistically moves toward a new era. The former National League Cy Young Award winner's lifelong dream to be a Brave came true at the age of 44, courtesy of the one-year, $8 million contract he agreed to last week. He will now pitch four hours from his family's residence in Nashville, Tenn., and attempt to satisfy the club's hope he will serve as an effective short-term bridge until some of Atlanta's highly touted starting pitching prospects prove they truly are Major League ready.

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"I'm thankful to hear I was at the top of their list because they certainly were at the top of mine," Dickey said. "It made for a great fit."

Braves president of baseball operations John Hart has shared a long relationship with both Dickey and Bartolo Colon, a 43-year-old starting pitcher who also signed with Atlanta within the past week. Hart helped identify these two ageless wonders as targets because he believes both have the ability and character to serve as assets both on and off the field.

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In 1996, when Dickey learned he was not born with an ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, he lost the $825,000 signing bonus the Rangers had offered and opted to accept a $75,000 bonus, rather than cash the $1 million insurance equity that would have prevented him from ever pitching professionally.

Dickey made his Major League debut with the Rangers in 2001, but he totaled just 77 appearances over the course of six seasons within that organization. Hart and Texas' other team officials repeatedly resisted the temptation to release the likable pitcher and eventually offered Dickey an opportunity in 2006 to begin toying with the knuckleball at the Triple-A level.

The Rangers never directly reaped the benefits as Dickey pitched within the Brewers, Rangers and Twins organizations over the course of the next three seasons. But the veteran hurler has never forgotten the influential role Hart and other Rangers officials played in his reformation as a pitcher.

"I could be competitive, I just couldn't be consistent with the stuff I had," Dickey said of his pre-knuckleball days. "So, when I went down and they gave me the freedom to fail more or less with the knuckleball. It really helped me to develop. It gave me a lot of latitude to pick myself up again and keep going. It took awhile, but here I am."

Braves Hall of Famer Phil Niekro aided the development of the knuckleball during a brief tutorial that was provided in Atlanta before the 2009 season. Dickey became a regular in the Mets' rotation the next year and in 2012 he won the NL Cy Young Award. He had completed at least 200 innings in six consecutive seasons before experiencing some struggles with the Blue Jays this past season.

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Now, Dickey will attempt to prove the Braves were wise to target him as a pitcher who can provide stability within their rotation and enrich the future of an organization he has always loved.

"It's a real honor first and foremost for me to be a part of a very historic franchise that looks like it's on its way to becoming what it once was," Dickey said. "I'm happy to be a part of that growth."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Atlanta Braves, R.A. Dickey