THEIR RELATIONSHIP BEGAN with a text. On Dec. 17, the day veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey was traded to the Blue Jays, J.P. Arencibia, Toronto's 27-year-old catcher, sent his new pitcher a short message, part welcome, part introduction. For Arencibia especially, it was important that they get to know each other. There had been unsettling rumors that he was to be included in the trade. Now he stared down a different sort of anxiety: He had to learn how to catch a man he had once prayed he wouldn't have to face.
Those prayers had been answered when Dickey and the Mets visited Toronto last May and the Blue Jays fell between his starts. Arencibia's only exposure to the knuckleball had come against Boston's Tim Wakefield, and Dickey was a far scarier prospect, even more consistently unpredictable than Wakefield had been. After those games against the Red Sox, Arencibia had watched film of his at-bats and marveled at how the footage never did justice to the experience. "The ball would just dance," he says today. After the news of Dickey's arrival, he searched online for film of his future teammate. He found the infamous GIF of Dickey's knuckleball diving out and then in, the face of his hapless catcher a darkly hilarious vision of terror. It maybe wasn't the best thing for Arencibia to see.
But J.P. Arencibia is a man of significant determination and even greater faith. He and Dickey also both happen to live in Nashville -- more Grand Plan than coincidence, if you ask Arencibia -- and the two men agreed that they should play some catch. One morning in early January, they shook hands for the first time at Lipscomb University, a small Christian college in town. "We're both believers," Arencibia says. Dickey brought the oversize mitt that he carries around like a traveling salesman and his suitcase of samples; Arencibia brought only his mask. He decided that he wouldn't wear his shin guards or chest protector. He had also chosen, very purposefully, not to wear his cup.