NEW YORK -- R.A. Dickey stood about 15 feet from a group of kids, giving each a chance to catch his famous knuckleball. Judging on how most of them dropped it, maybe it is as hard to catch as they say it is.
Dickey and several members of the Stony Brook University baseball team joined up on Wednesday morning at the Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement House in Long Island City to address 100 kids from United Neighborhood houses, as part of the Mets' Citi Field Kids program. Following a short speech, Dickey and the Stony Brook players held a baseball clinic at a nearby park.
"They want to play baseball now, or they want to go to Stony Brook or they want to become a New York Met, whatever it is," Josh Barry, a left-handed pitcher for Stony Brook, said of the youngsters at the clinic. "It's good to breathe stuff like this in."
Dickey's relation to the event couldn't be more personal. Now a Major League All-Star, New York's knuckleballer hasn't forgotten his roots, and his widely published difficult childhood has motivated him to give back to the community.
"To have people care enough about you to provide a place like this in the community is a fantastic start," Dickey said of the settlement house, a community based non-profit organization that offers comprehensive services to youth, adults, seniors and families of Western Queens.
"I wish there would've been events like this for me in Nashville, Tenn. It's such a rich experience for me, it's like I'm looking out and seeing 100 R.A. Dickeys. That was me, so there's a real connection there."
Dickey's message for the 100 kids in attendance was simple: persevere, and anything is possible. That, and a tutorial on throwing a knuckleball, of course.
"You're going to make mistakes, you're going to make bad choices, you're going to have a rough game, but it's what you do when that happens that really defines you," Dickey said. "My hope for them is they'll be able to hold the mistakes that they've made, grow out of them and really work hard to achieve their goals."
For 12-year-old Jonathan Tran -- a self-proclaimed diehard Mets fan -- Dickey's presence was important, and more importantly, pretty cool.
"I'm really excited, and it's awesome because I've never met a professional baseball player," Tran said. "It's important to me that he's here."
Tran may have not recognized the 20-yer-old Barry from Stony Brook, which captured the hearts of a nation in June by becoming the first America East Conference member to reach the College World Series, but that didn't sway Barry from soaking in the event.
"These kids are young, but for the ones that recognize [you], it's awesome to see a professional athlete take time out of his day to come see you," Barry said. "Some of them may not reflect on it now, but it's something that [they] can look back on and say, 'A role model like him wanted to impact my life.'
"Some of them may go on and try to do the same. You don't have to be a professional athlete. Everyone becomes a professional in something, so it's good for these kids."
The kids in attendance on Wednesday received tickets to a game at Citi Field, giving the group an opportunity to explore the Stadium's Jackie Robinson Rotunda -- Citi Field Kids was founded in 2009 in collaboration with the Jackie Robinson Foundation -- and a chance to learn even more about Robinson's legacy and impact on the game.
"To be able to pour into the lives of these children, and to use the platform of baseball -- something that I love -- it's a real blessing for me," Dickey said.