One day after making history as the first knuckleballer to win the Cy Young Award, New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey didn’t go to Disney World … he spent the day sharing his story at Lipscomb University.
Dickey was on campus Thursday, Nov. 15, to receive the Heroes of Business Award given by the College of Business at Lipscomb University. Only hours earlier on Wednesday evening did he learn that he was the National League Cy Young Award Winner. The Cy Young Award is an honor given annually to the best pitchers in major league baseball, one each for the American League and for the National League.
“How cool is it to be here at Lipscomb the day after winning the Cy Young Award. It’s not by accident that you are here with me today to celebrate,” Dickey told a crowd of more than 1,000 students, faculty and staff who gathered in Collins Alumni Auditorium for a special chapel program. “The fact that my first public appearance after receiving this honor is on a campus that holds Christ high is no accident.”
More than a year ago, College of Business Dean Turney Stevens contacted Dickey about coming to campus to be recognized as a business leader. Dickey’s only stipulation was that the date be after the World Series, planning for his team to make a run at a championship. So, they decided that he would come to campus Nov. 15. Little did anyone know at that time that would be one day after one of the biggest days of Dickey’s life.
“It’s a special privilege to welcome R.A. here today – a day when his name is probably in every newspaper and media outlet across the country,” said Stevens. “R.A. is a great example of someone who has implemented good business practices and strategies as he has navigated his career as a professional baseball player and in other business interests. In addition to the personal training and preparation he makes to be a good player, he also is an example of someone who has faced challenges in his career and has persevered to overcome those obstacles. These are lessons we all can learn from.”
The Heroes of Business series and award, sponsored by the College of Business at Lipscomb University, recognizes business leaders who have demonstrated ethical business practices while succeeding in business and working from a foundation of Christian faith. Those honored as part of this program share their stories with aspiring business students to help change their perception of the questionable ethical business practices sometimes found in the business world.
This season has been a breakout year for Dickey, who won 20 games for a 2.73 E.R.A. and led the National League with 230 strikeouts. A first-round draft pick for the Texas Rangers in 1996, Dickey made his major league debut for the Rangers on April 22, 2001. In addition to the Rangers, he has played for the Seattle Mariners and the Minnesota Twins. In 2010, he joined the New York Mets, where he has been a key asset. Dickey's performance in the first half of 2012 drew comparisons to some of the most dominant pitching streaks of the last 50 years. In July, he was named to the National League All-Star Team.
A 1993 graduate of Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Dickey was an academic all-American at the University of Tennessee, where he majored in English. In 1996, Dickey was a member of the United States Olympic baseball team that captured the bronze medal. He went 7-0 in 10 starts during the pre-Olympics and Olympics.
Dickey shared his story of a childhood and young adult life that was filled with adversity and how he learned from the dark places his life has led him.
“If you haven’t had adversity in your life yet it’s coming. We live in a broken place,” he said. “That’s what makes this story of redemption so great. You may see this honor and think I have this success. But, the other side of this coin is dirty and bent and rusty. I am fractured, but I am also a child of the Living One.”
Dickey’s story is one of abuse, disappointment and hurt that led him down a path that found him contemplating suicide, shutting out those around him and struggling to trust anyone. It’s a story he has shared in his recent New York Times best-selling autobiography, “Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball,” co-written with reporter Wayne Coffey.
He became good at hiding the torment that occupied his mind and at manipulating situations and people. He married and started to build a family with his wife, Anne, whom he felt he deceived with his brokenness he felt. He continued to be terrified of trusting others with the “real” person that he was, manipulating people and situations to keep up the facade. But, he never lost hope.
“I had to be brought nearly to the end of myself to see God’s hope for me. When I was in my darkest moment, I felt God telling me that He had something else in life planned for me, but I had to let go and trust,” said Dickey.
“I had to embrace things that I wasn’t comfortable embracing. I was so scared that someone would see inside me and see how broken I was.”
In 2006 Dickey, 38, started letting go and learning to trust others. He said he began to realize how much in his life he had missed by being afraid of trusting again and learned a lot about himself in the process.
“You can never be far enough away from God that He can’t reach in and pull you out of the darkness and put you where you need to be,” said Dickey. “There is definitely a parallel in my life getting on track and the success in my career.”
Dickey told the audience that he felt called to share his story with them but that it was tough to do.
“This is a milestone for me. I’ve written a book about my struggles in life, but saying it is difficult. I’m asking you to hold it and to treat it with care,” he said. “I’m not here before you because I’ve done some great thing. I stand up here because I am a product of His grace and mercy. This is how He has designed my story.”
Dickey said he has learned to be fully invested in the moment and living each moment he has well.
“I was so hungry because I was in darkness for so long,” he said. “It’s beautiful on the other side. I want what God has for me and I have to learn to get out of His way. I try to do that by living the next five minutes well, over and over and over again. At the end of the day, I can lay my head on my pillow and know what I was fully committed to the moment every moment of the day.”
Dickey told a group of business leaders who gathered to honor him for being named a Hero of Business that the business lesson in his story is the importance of reinvention and living authentically.
“There is always room to grow. I throw a ball for a living and I play a game for a living. If I throw 120 pitches in a game that’s 120 commitments that I have made during that game,” said Dickey. “It’s an organic process. I will never ‘arrive’ in my profession. It’s a journey. It’s a lot of hard work and I’m always looking for a competitive edge.”
Dickey explained how he worked to find a competitive edge with his pitching form. It was a process that required much examination and hard work. What emerged was a new delivery that elevated his pitches making him more successful in striking out batters.
Lipscomb holds a special place in Dickey’s heart. As a child he attended many basketball games in McQuiddy Gym watching many great Bison players through the years. He said he has also thrown a baseball against the concrete wall in McQuiddy “thousands of times” through the years as he worked diligently to hone his pitching skills.
“No, I didn’t graduate from here, but I feel so close to this place. I love this place,” he said. “There are so many of you here who have believed in me and helped me … and never once wanted anything in return.”
Long-time friend and Bison baseball coach Jeff Forehand said Dickey is a humble person with a never-give-up attitude.
“R.A. is going to be the same person today that he was yesterday … award or no award,” said Forehand. “Whenever he faced disappointment in his career and didn’t get to play in the major leagues when he wanted to he would always say, ‘It’s okay. We’ll make it up when we make it to the big leagues.’ Through all of the trials and tribulations of his life … this is his attitude.”
Dickey said he isn’t certain how much longer he will play professional baseball. He has a lot of other projects on his plate. He recently signed a contact with Penguin’s Dial Books to write three children’s books and has helped form a nonprofit organization called Honoring the Father Ministries, which provides medical supplies, powdered milk and baseball equipment to underserved populations in Latin America.
But family is the most important thing to Dickey.
“As long as my body says go, I’ll go,” he said. “But my daughter is 10 and she will be a teenager soon. She’s going to need her father. Baseball is a tough lifestyle. My family deserves better than what I can give them during the season. Baseball is great and it enables us to have a lot of things. But, it comes with a price.”
For more information about the College of Business, visit business.lipscomb.edu.