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National League Cy Young Award winner R. A. Dickey

He was born Robert Allen Dickey on October 29, 1974. Like his grandfather, who was called by his initials, he became known as R. A. He knew poverty and remembers his parents stealing flatware from the Western Sizzlin’ restaurant. His alcoholic mother and emotionally absent father divorced when he was three years old.

R. A.’s childhood and adolescence was full of struggle and conflict. He was a fierce competitor and regularly involved in fights. It was not unusual for him to sleep in his car or at friend’s house, or to break into vacant houses and spend the night there. He was sexually abused by a thirteen year old babysitter when he was eight years old and later by a teen-aged boy.

His athletic ability brought satisfaction and a sense of self-worth to this Nashville native as he grew up. He was an English literature major at the University of Tennessee where he had a 3.35 GPA and was named Academic All-American and Academic All-SEC. He was also a star athlete as a football quarterback, basketball forward and baseball pitcher.

R.A. Dickey, with Team USA, signs autographs before

1996 was a banner year for R.A. He was a member of Team USA in the Olympics. He was picked in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Texas Rangers. After being drafted, he was initially offered a signing bonus of $810,000. But Rangers trainer Danny Wheat saw his throwing (right) arm hanging oddly in a picture of him with fellow USA starting pitchers in Baseball America.

Dr. John Conway, team physician conducted a physical examination that revealed a missing ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The UCL is necessary for daily functions as routine as turning a doorknob. As a result of this discovery, Doug Melvin, Rangers General Manager, told Dickey and his agent, “We are going to retract our offer.”

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In his autobiography, R.A. describes his feelings as he sat in the GM’s office and heard his words.

“I don’t feel devastation, or even  anger. I feel rage. Complete rage. It feels as if it starts in my toes and blasts up through my body like a tsunami, into my guts and right up through the top of my head.

“I have an urge as primal as anything I have ever felt….But I do not lift a finger. I do not leave my chair. It’s as if there is a strong hand on my shoulder holding me back, giving me pause. In that instant I have a self-control that was not there a moment earlier.

“I hear a voice: ‘Relax, I’ve got you. Relax, R.A. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. I’ve got you.’

“The voice is the Holy Spirit. The restraint is the Holy Spirit… The tsunami passes.”

As he goes to the airport for his flight back home to Nashville he feels “the rage dissipating, replaced by a terrible loneliness. A loneliness that feels terminal.”

On the flight home he searches “for comfort, any comfort at all, and finds it, not in Doug Melvin’s seven words (We are going to retract our offer), but in the Holy Spirit’s three: ‘I’ve got you’.”

Sounds pitcher R. A. Dickey hurls a pitch into the

This is the place where the music swells and you get the feeling that all is well. Not so. The next several years brings momentary success and significant failures for R.A.  He travels a long road filled with disappointments and struggles- 11 years in the minor leagues. One writer said, “Despite being twice consigned to baseball’s scrap heap Dickey battled back. Sustained by his Christian faith, his wife and children, and a relentless quest for self-awarenes” he finally achieved his life-long goal of being a Major League baseball player. In 2012, Dickey was selected to his first All-Star Game, won the Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award, and became the first knuckleball pitcher to win the Cy Young Award.

As a conventional Major League pitcher R.A. was marginally successful. After advice from his manager and pitching coach, he focused on becoming a knuckleball pitcher. As of the 2017 season, Dickey (now with the Atlanta Braves) and Boston Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright are the only two active players in the majors who use the knuckleball as their primary pitch.

R.A. Dickey Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves

The Holy Spirit’s words, “I’ve got you,” in 1996 was not a promise that everything would be easy. However, they were words of assurance to R.A. that he was not alone and no matter what happened it would be okay.

The promise made to R.A. Dickey is given to everyone: “Relax, I’ve got you. It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. I’ve got you.”

Jamie Jenkins

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Working Smarter, Not Harder...Literally

Work smarter, not harder is good advice. This axiom takes into consideration that there might be a better way to accomplish a task. Analytical data present options that may be preferable to the old way.

That is the central premise of a book by Michael Lewis. It is the story about the Oakland Athletics, a Major League Baseball (MLB) team, and it’s General Manager Billy Beane. A film based on the book starred Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game proposes a better way to assemble a competitive team than how baseball insiders have done it in the past. The Athletics, and Beane in particular, believe that the use of computer-generated analysis to acquire new players produces better results than the system used for many years. The conclusion was that rigorous statistical analysis demonstrated better indicators of success. This strategy enabled the A’s to reach the playoffs in 2002 and 2003 in spite of having the third-lowest team payroll in the league.

If you are not a baseball fan, don’t quit reading.

Theo Epstein

In 2004 Theo Epstein became the youngest GM in the history of MLB when the Boston Red Sox hired him at the age of 28. Using the Moneyball approach, he led the team to six playoff appearances and two World Series titles (something they had not accomplished in 86 years) in nine seasons.

In 2011 Epstein resigned from his job in Boston to become President of Baseball Operations for the Chicago Cubs. His devotion to the data-driven analysis that helped teams identify and accumulate players with little-noticed but crucial strengths had succeeded inestimably in Boston. However, “a few weeks before spring training of 2012, in the ballroom of a budget hotel in Mesa, Ariz., Theo Epstein stood before nearly every person connected with the baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs and told them how the Cubs were going to win the World Series” (Fortune Magazine).

The magazine article was based on The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Baseball Team and Breaking the Curse, a book by Tom Verducci. He reported that “Epstein devoted the first three days of the session to on-field strategy: hitting philosophy, pitching philosophy, defense, and base running. But the entire last day was devoted to character. The Cubs, Epstein insisted, would acquire only players with outstanding makeup.”

Near the end of his tenure at Boston he came to understand that character and chemistry were strengths that could not be captured with a strictly analytic approach and “their absence was painfully clear as the team underwent a late-season collapse. The more the team lost, the more it broke apart from within. Players ­feuded with one another. The egos that had created cracks in the clubhouse while they were winning caused deep fissures as they lost.”

Epstein had put so much faith in numbers when he began as general manager of the Red Sox. “Now character did not just matter. It was essential to Epstein’s blueprint to win the World Series.” He gave his scouts very specific instructions about how to assess not only a player’s skills and abilities but the kind of person he was. How he treated other people. How he responded to adversity. What others- friends and enemies- said about him. His character.

Chicago Cubs 1908 & 2016 World Series Champions Team Photo (Size: 12" x 15") Framed

The brilliance of what the Cubs did was to put their faith not just in numbers, but also in the type of people they acquired. In 2016, five years of applying this new approach, the Cubs won their first World Series championship in 108 years.

Epstein understood that character counts!

Isn’t that what Jesus was implying when he told his disciples “Do not break your promise, but do what you have vowed to the Lord to do.” “Don’t say anything you don’t mean” (Matthew 5:33 CEV, MSG). Repeatedly the Master points his followers to a high standard of morality and instructs them to be genuine in their relationships.

Jesus wants us to know, character counts.

Jamie Jenkins