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Oct14WedToronto Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey has always overcome obstacles on and off the mound. Now he's trying to strike out human trafficking. October 14, 2015 by Robert Mitchell
When the Toronto Blue Jays signed knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey last December, the announcement sent ripples through the major leagues. Coupled with some other acquisitions, the trade for R.A. could finally give the Jays a shot at playoff contention. And the team's performance over the summer kept those hopes alive for their fervent fan base.
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Despite the media buzz surrounding his every move, R.A. says he simply tries to “stay in the moment.” It's something he practises off the field, too.
“If I just concentrate on living the next five minutes well, then I'll be able to sleep at night,” R.A. says.
He writes in his memoir, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball, that he learned to live in the moment after nearly drowning as he tried to swim across the dangerous Missouri River. Battling a powerful undertow and raging currents, R.A. turned back halfway, emerging from the water a humbled and changed man on and off the field.
“I jumped in the water thinking I was in charge,” he writes. “I found out God was in charge.” He considers that experience a turning point in his life.
“God's already given me a second chance as a husband and father,” he writes. “He's already given me a second chance as a pitcher. Now he has given me a second chance as a human being.”
R.A., a devout Christian whose full name is Robert Allen Dickey, has reached the pinnacle of baseball success. But that height is nothing compared to the one R.A. reached four years ago when he scaled Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and money for the battle against human trafficking.
“I got to really enjoy God's handiwork,” R.A. says. “To see the world from the highest point in Africa was an incredible experience.”
In climbing Kilimanjaro, R.A. risked voiding his contract with the Mets. But he did it because he wanted to raise money for Bombay Teen Challenge, a Christian organization engaged in the war on human trafficking.
“I want to give my children a heart for humanity”
The human trafficking issue hits close to home for R.A., whose memoir is not your typical sports book.
In it, R.A. describes two ugly episodes of sexual abuse he suffered as a child growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lived with his divorced parents.
Upon learning about the human trafficking issue and talking to some of the victims, R.A. thought of his own girls, Gabriel, 12, and Lila, 10.
“The thought of them being subjected to the things that these girls are subjected to from age eight on is just … it almost felt criminal not to do something,” R.A. says. “Having been sexually abused myself, it impacted me deeply and I felt a connection to the issue.”
R.A. says he didn't know what to expect when the book was released.
“I wanted to create a forum that would free people up to talk about things that are hard to talk about, and in that regard, it's been an incredible success.”
R.A. kept his sexual abuse a secret for years. The baseball diamond was where he found peace. He became a star pitcher at the University of Tennessee and was a No. 1 draft pick of the Texas Rangers in 1996, but he bounced around the minor leagues for 14 seasons with mediocre results.
R.A.'s real break came in 2005 when the Rangers insisted he either go to the minors and learn to throw the knuckleball—a pitch he'd toyed around with in the past—or retire.
R.A. worked hard for years to develop the knuckleball, which, unlike other pitches, floats toward the batter with little or no spin. Today, he is the only full-time knuckleball pitcher in the majors.
After years of struggling to find himself as a pitcher, he posted a 20-6 record and led the National League in strikeouts while making his first All-Star team. He won the coveted Cy Young Award, bestowed on the league's best pitcher, and also won the Branch Rickey Award, given annually to a strong role model, for a project in which he helped get baseball equipment and medical supplies to the poor in Central and South America.
“A Heart for Humanity”
During the off-season, the struggling Mets traded the popular pitcher to the Toronto Blue Jays for a package of young rospects. That didn't stop R.A. from doing what he could to fight human trafficking. To raise awareness about the issue, he went to India with his daughters to work in the red-light district in Mumbai.
“I want to give my children a heart for humanity,” R.A. told the New York Daily News. “The only way to really do that is to get them outside of the bubble that they live in, and expose them in very measured ways to what real life is to a lot of people.”
As for baseball, he knows where his power comes from.
“I'm humbled by it, by God's imagination. I really am,” R.A. says. “I'm just along for the ride and this is where He has taken me. I'm trying to just be faithful in that.”
R.A. then quotes Ephesians 3:20, which not coincidentally is his favourite Bible verse: “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.”
“I really have tried to commit my life and recommit it over and over after multiple mistakes,” R.A. says. “I'll continue to make mistakes, but I really try to be a man after God's own heart.”
Network of Help
On road trips, R.A. brings along a collection of Christian books, including one of daily readings from author C.S. Lewis. He also leans on his wife, Anne, Christian teammates and friends to help him along the way, and he has a weekly phone conversation with his pastor back in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives in the off-season.
“We talk about all sorts of things, such as books we're reading together, or we just pray together,” R.A. says. “I'm not saying I have to sit down at this certain time or that certain hour, but it is a consistent force in my life.”
Salvation Army Battles Human Trafficking
Pitcher R.A. Dickey has something in common with The Salvation Army: a passion to fight human trafficking.
The Army, formed in 1865 by William and Catherine Booth, has been fighting sex trafficking of women and children since its inception.
In its early days, the Army opened more than 100 homes for exploited women and girls and was instrumental in raising the age of consent from 13 to 16 in England.
In the late 1990s, the Army revived its anti-human trafficking efforts, and created its International Social Justice Commission, based in New York City. There are also many local efforts, in Canada and around the world, that help victims of forced labour and sex trafficking, most often women caught up in the sex trade.
This article originally appeared in The Salvation Army's Priority magazine (Summer 2013).