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SPORTS: Ranger in Cuba

MULKEYTOWN, Ill. (BP)–R.A. Dickey is always amazed at the poverty he sees in Cuba. Many people don’t wear shoes. Many eat their meals on dirt floors.

But the Texas Rangers pitcher is even more shocked by the attitudes of the people who live in such wretched conditions.

“When you go down there you have a bunch of different emotions,” Dickey said. “The first that hits you is you start feeling sorry for the people. Once you get to know the people and see their attitude, you start to think that you might be missing something because you have so much, but you don’t have the love for other people and for God that these people have. Then you start to feel sorry for yourself.”

Dickey just returned from his fourth mission trip in Cuba with Honoring the Father Ministries, a network of baseball players who use the platform of baseball to talk about their faith in Jesus Christ. As part of the trip, Dickey and other players traveled around the country in a beaten-up old Volkswagen van, speaking to churches, distributing baseball equipment, holding baseball clinics and playing the game with the locals.

Dickey brought equipment donated by the Rangers, as well as equipment that pitcher Braden Looper had collected from the Florida Marlins and sent with Dickey. Fellow major league pitchers Jonathan Johnson and John Wasdin also participated in the mission trip.

“Baseball is kind of the universal language,” Dickey said. “It’s been an awesome experience. A lot of people have come to know the Lord that probably wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Because Cuba is a communist country, Christians like Dickey often are limited in what the government will allow them to do. Dickey has smuggled Bibles in with the baseball equipment so they won’t be confiscated.

One time during this trip, the communist leader in a town Dickey visited wouldn’t let him pitch to Cubans. The government official was afraid Dickey would show up the Cubans, and the Castro regime certainly doesn’t want to allow Americans to look superior.

Propaganda across the country constantly denounces America. Since the people don’t have access to television or anything other than a state-controlled newspaper, they rarely hear anything but negatives about Americans.

Despite this, the Cuban people, many of whom had never even seen a white person before, warmly received his group.

“They just opened up their arms to us when we came in,” Dickey said.

A native of Nashville, Tenn., Dickey is heading into his second full season with the Rangers. As a rookie last year, he won nine games — which tied him for second in that category among American League rookies. Dickey also sports a perfect 1.000 batting average — something few professional players can claim. (Dickey has one hit in one career at-bat.)

“That’s the stat that I’m most proud of,” Dickey quipped. “If you look at the best hitters of all time, I’m one of them.”

Even with a solid rookie season, Dickey knows there is room for improvement, and he’s expecting as much from both himself and his team in 2004.

Dickey just doesn’t know for sure yet what his role on the team will be. He worked as both a starter and a reliever last year, and he’s hoping to earn a spot in the rotation.

“I’ve done everything. I even closed last year,” he said. “Whatever role they want me to do is fine.”

That’s a great attitude to have, and one that has most likely been fostered by what Dickey has seen in Cuba — how people who are so destitute are still content with what they have. It’s a revelation that has made a significant impact on his life.

Said Dickey: “You go over there wanting to do good for other people, and you leave having been ministered to the most.”
Tim Ellsworth is a regular columnist for BPSports, on the Web at BPSports.net.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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