Toronto Blue Jays fans knew when R.A. Dickey was acquired in a trade with the New York Mets in December that their team was adding a 38-year-old Cy Young Award winner. They knew the Jays were bringing in a pitcher that could not only win 20 games and lead the rotation, but turn the franchise from a playoff team into a World Series contender.
What many fans didn’t know and are continuing to learn since the trade is that Dickey doesn't only bring a nasty knuckleball and a will to win. His life away from the diamond and the charity work he performs means he has the potential to become one of Toronto’s most beloved professional athletes.
Dickey has spent the last week in Mumbai working with a Christian charity organization that helps fight against child sex trafficking in India. This isn’t the first time he’s worked with the organization. Last year he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and raised more than $100,000 for the charity known as Bombay Teen Challenge.
"It's authentic to me because of my past experience, also I have a sentimentality to it because the girls that I've seen first-hand in the streets, these 19, 20, 21-year-old girls,” Dickey told reporters on a media conference call Tuesday. “You have to look beyond that and see at one point they were daughters themselves, and having two daughters. . . that just for me was so compelling."
In March 2012 Dickey released an autobiography in which he talks about being sexually abused as a child and many of the other obstacles he’s had to overcome in his life including contemplating suicide.
He told John Lott of the National Post with regards to finding redemption both in life through telling his story and as a pitcher:
“It was very cathartic,” he said. “It allowed a sense of freedom that I had never experienced as a human being or a baseball player. So I felt like it really freed me up to be who God had authentically created me to be.
“Part of that was really embracing the knuckleball. A very neat thing to take away from that whole experience was that my personal life and my career really paralleled each other from a growth perspective. The book was instrumental in that.”
His uplifting story and his willingness to give back provides a breath of fresh air to a sport that is too often littered with negative storylines another of which broke Tuesday. In September Dickey was named the 2012 recipient of the Branch Rickey Award, which honors individuals in baseball who contribute unselfishly to their communities and who are strong role models for young people and he also graced the cover of Sports Illustrated’s annual “inspiring performers” issue.
When the season kicks into gear the focus will be back on Dickey’s pitching and whether or not he can repeat what he accomplished last season. However what he’s capable of bringing off the field and in the clubhouse is part of what makes Dickey such an ideal fit for Toronto.
He’s a role model not only to baseball fans, but to his new teammates.