NFL former quarterback Doug Flutie walks the sidelines - US PRESSWIRE
Well, this is something of a departure. At 7pm next Wednesday, the MLB Network premieres its reality show, The Next Knuckler. In it, Tim Wakefield will attempt to teach five former quarterbacks how to throw the knuckleball. Whoever does best will get an invite to spring training with the D-backs and maybe pitch in a Cactus League game...
Taped at Vero Beach Sports Village, the former Spring Training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers, each episode will feature the contestants learning from Wakefield how to throw this baffling pitch before facing challenges to test the effectiveness of their knuckleball. One contestant will be eliminated from the competition in each episode based on his performance and input from Wakefield and Millar. The winner will earn an invitation to the Arizona Diamondbacks' Spring Training camp and the chance to pitch for the D-backs in a Spring Training game.
The five are John David Booty, his older brother Josh, Doug Flutie, David Greene and Ryan Perrilloux. Interestingly, the MLB Network is careful to avoid mentioning much about any connection between these players and the NFL. They stress their college credentials even though all bar Perrilloux were drafted by NFL teams (though Greene never took the field, despite being part of four different teams. Flutie is the only one of whom I've ever heard, being a former Heisman trophy winner, but that probably says more about how much I care about football, i.e. very little.
It's an interesting, and yet curious choice to pick, firstly, football players, and secondly, quarterbacks to try and learn the esoteric art of the knuckleball. Obviously, they are the only members on a football team regularly tasked with throwing, but even I know that spinning the pigskin is an important part of the skill-set, giving the ball accuracy, in the same way a gun rifles the bullet. That's the exact opposite of what a knuckleball does: it's thrown with as little spin as possible, which is what causes it to dance through the air semi-randomly. It goes against just about every aspect of standard baseball practice.
Says Wakefield in the opening epsiode, "I've dedicated my entire baseball life to the challenging art of throwing the knuckleball. Now, I've embarked on this mission to continue the knuckleball legacy. These guys were great athletes on the gridiron so I wanted to try this experiment out. You don't have to grip the baseball the way I threw it, but if you want to win, you have to lose the spin." He'll be joined by guests each show, including fellow knuckler and reigning Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, former All-Star Charlie Hough and 15-year old knuckleball phenom Chelsea Baker, who threw two perfect games for her Plant City Little League team in 2010.
The second episode airs the following night at 8pm, with the remaining two Wednesday and Thursday next week at the same time, preceded by a re-air of the previous ep. Each will feature the contestants learning from Wakefield how to throw this baffling pitch before facing challenges to test the effectiveness of their knuckleball. One contestant will be eliminated from the competition in each episode based on his performance and input from Wakefield and co-host Kevin Millar. The winner will earn an invitation to the Arizona Diamondbacks' Spring Training camp and the chance to pitch for the D-backs in a Spring Training game. "Chance," I suspect, being the operative word.
Said team President Derrick Hall, "We look forward to being featured on The Next Knuckler and giving an opportunity to one of these top-flight athletes to come to Spring Training with the D-backs. With a knuckleball, you never know what kind of success a pitcher will have and that's part of the intrigue for our franchise to take part in this reality show." I'm a big fan of the pitch - there's nothing quite like seeing major-league hitters flailing like park hackers at a pitch close to the speed I'd throw - so will likely be watching this series, as much for that aspect, as any direct connection with the Diamondbacks. Here's a promo clip.