Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey found his identity in his sport, but found freedom in letting go
R.A. Dickey is known for being the professional pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball— less so for the abuse he suffered as a child, the suicidal thoughts that later plagued him, and a near-drowning in the Missouri River.
In his I Am Second testimony, Robert says his story begins with his parent's separation, which sparked in him a deep sense of loneliness.
Robert was eight years old when his 13-year-old female babysitter molested him. A couple of years later a male stranger assaulted him in a much worse fashion.
Robert says one of the things that happens when you're abused is you feel less than human.
"Why do I even matter?" it made him ask, "Why should I be here?
"If something like this can happen to me then surely I must be less than an ant."
Robert carried that sense of worthlessness well into his adult life.
He describes sport as a way he could control his destiny.
"If you followed the formula as an athlete you would be rewarded for that.
"That was a way I not only escaped but found a lot of validation and a lot of identity."
Robert was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 1996 Major League Baseball, but they drastically reduced their offer after the discovery of a missing elbow ligament that made it a wonder he could pitch at all.
"It opened up a lot of what I had felt as a damaged youth after being abused," he says, recalling feelings of inadequacy and brokenness.
He spent the next nine years in the minor leagues struggling to keep his baseball career alive.
"I was at the end of myself," he says in reminiscence of a difficult time in his career.
He describes how at his lowest point he tried to commit suicide.
"The only thing that saved me was the feeling God was sitting right beside me in the passenger seat and whispering, 'I've got something else for you'."
Robert had turned to God before: when he was 13 years old, to ask Him to take away the shame, the hurt, and the feelings of inadequacy from his assaults.
He says he thought the feelings would disappear instantly and had a lot of anger when they did not.
"I've taken the risk with You, Lord," he said, "and yet I don't feel any different."
Though he felt God's presence at several difficult times in his life, Robert finally made a commitment to follow God after he almost drowned in the Missouri River.
He had gone in to see if he could cross it, thinking it would get him validation from his teammates.
"How legendary would it be if I were able to traverse the Missouri River? That would go down in history."
But, he describes, the current was faster and stronger than he anticipated and he fatigued.
"It was sucking me under..." he says. "There was no way I was going to get to the other side.
"I finally surrendered."
Robert says he wept as he sunk under the water, saying sorry to God for leaving his family behind and his children without a father.
But just as he had given up he felt his feet touch the bottom, pushed himself up, and felt enough adrenaline to swim a little further before a teammate held out his hand and pulled him out of the water.
"I survived. I survived that, when I had totally surrendered myself to the end," Robert says.
"My life from that point on centered around trying to live the next five minutes well, whatever that meant."
He says he told his wife about his abuse for the first time and was overwhelmed by her embracing and loving response.
"I began to risk trusting people again," he says.
"And I began to discover that God was in the middle of all of it. He has designed me for relationship.
"For so long I had held on so tight to my identity as an athlete, as a baseball player, and it seemed God was prying my fingers back so He could get [my life] the way He wanted it.
"I got to the place where I wanted to open my hand and He didn't have to pry my fingers back."
Robert says he surrenders every moment to God; from the moment he wakes up to the moment he closes his eyes at night.
"I think the complete surrender is what I'm most infatuated by."
Robert wrote about his journey in an autobiography titled Wherever I wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball.
He helps operate Honoring the Father Ministries in Florida, which provides medical supplies powdered milk and baseball equipment to the poor in Latin America. •