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YORK -- R.A. Dickey had yet to throw his knuckleball to a Mets catcher in Spring Training 2010. As is often the case with the pitch, no one knew what to expect -- from him or his specialty. On this bright Florida morning, his partner in the 15-minute team catch was bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello, who had dressed for some less challenging and dangerous activity. He wore only his cap, uniform and glove. And a smile.
Dickey let loose, and Racaniello smiled -- whether or not he caught the ball. He either was proud for having caught it or amused and amazed by the movement that prevented him from catching it. Either way it was worth a cackle and at least a smirk.
Similar circumstances happened at Citi Field on Monday night before Dickey took his enhanced knuckler and glittering recent resumé to the mound to impress and torment the Orioles. The receiver in this pregame exercise was Racaniello's buddy, David Wright. He, too, was operating without protection as he tried handle the mysterious pitches delivered by Olivia Galati, the R.A. Dickey of intercollegiate softball.
Galati is the best pitcher on the Hofstra University softball team, which is to say that Secretariat was the best horse in the Belmont. She was best pitcher this side of the Pacific this year, her third at Hofstra. She struck out 378 batters in 280 2/3 innings, and she produced a 34-7 record and an 0.95 ERA, the only sub-1.00 ERA in the nation. And she did it throwing the only known softball knuckleball.
Call her Madam Butterfly.
Wright caught three of Galati's knucklers during his brief experiment as a catcher. He smiled each time, either proud of his accomplishment or relieved that he avoided injury. He declined to use a bat against Galati; no need for embarrassment. And she was delighted just to be on the field -- albeit in foul territory -- a few hours before Dickey started floating his knuckleball. No need to embarrass anyone.
"My father taught me to throw it," Galati, 21, said. "He can throw a knuckleball [overhand]. He showed me how to do it underhand, and I started throwing it when I was nine."
Incidentally, she can't throw a knuckleball overhand.
The principle of a knuckleball is the same both overhand and under: fingertips, not knuckles, on the ball. Palm as far as possible from the ball. The fingers come off the ball simultaneously, so they impart no spin. The movement is caused by the friction of the irregular stitching against the air.
Hofstra just completed a 42-15 season that included its first appearance in the Super Regionals. The Pride won its ninth Colonial Athletic Association championship in 11 years before defeating 12-time national champion UCLA and San Diego State to win the Los Angeles Regional. Hofstra fell one victory shy of reaching the Women's College World Series.
And Galati has another year to make hitters look silly and her father look good.
And there may be more to learn, as she is hopeful of another sitdown with Dickey. The two met at a function last year, and Galati did some brain picking. Now, to borrow phrasing from Mr. Berra, Dickey might be able to learn her some of his experience. He's having a pretty good year with his knuckleball, you know.