Chris Dickerson pushing for environmental awareness -- and a role on O's

Outfielder co-founded a coalition of athletes who promote green initiatives

  • Chris Dickerson hopes to spread his environmental initiatives to Baltimore after joining the Orioles this offseason.
Chris Dickerson hopes to spread his environmental initiatives… (Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports )
March 20, 2013|By Eduardo A. Encina | The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — Chris Dickerson's revelation occurred while playing in the minor leagues, when the outfielder noticed how often his Triple-A teammates used plastic water bottles and — without a thought — tossed them in the trash.

"Each guy is going through eight, nine bottles a day," said Dickerson, who was playing with the Cincinnati Reds' Triple-A affiliate in Louisville at the time in 2008. "What I noticed was coming in from [batting practice] that everyone was just tossing bottles in the trash and you'd go in and look in the trash and there's hundreds of plastic bottles in there."

So Dickerson, now with the Orioles, started a recycling program in the Louisville clubhouse and supplied the entire team with reusable aluminum water bottles. Five years later, Dickerson is the CEO and co-founder of Players for the Planet, a coalition of nearly 90 professional athletes who partner to promote environmental awareness.

In 2009, when Dickerson was playing for the Reds, he formed an e-waste recycling drive in Cincinnati, in which he and teammates collected 200,000 pounds of used electronics over one weekend. His organization has been holding the event every year since, and this season he's planning to expand the e-waste drives to five major league markets, including Kansas City and San Francisco.

"This year is going to be huge," Dickerson said with a smile.

The 31-year-old Dickerson, who grew up in Southern California in an environmentally conscious family, would like to make the same impact in Baltimore. He's already spoken to some of his new teammates about his passion — he said left-handers Zach Britton and Brian Matusz talked to him about the possibility of a Chesapeake Bay cleanup — but first he needs to find out where he's going to begin this season.

Dickerson, signed to a minor league deal Jan. 29, is in a crowded mix for a major league reserve outfield spot. If he doesn't make the team's Opening Day roster, he would likely begin the season at Triple-A Norfolk.

For most of the past five seasons, Dickerson has shuttled between the majors and Triple-A. But he is an athletic player who has speed, can hit for power from the left side and can play all three outfield positions. Last season, he recorded a .316/.417/.515 batting line with 17 stolen bases in 69 games with the Yankees' Triple-A team before earning a September call-up. He played well for the Yankees down the stretch, batting .286/.412/.714 in 14 at-bats and hitting a home run off Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman in his first Yankees start Sept. 2.

"He is a very talented guy," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He throws as well as anybody. He runs well. He's got of pop. ... I can see why, at 31, he's still a commodity. He brings a lot of things that people are in need of."

Dickerson is making the most of his opportunity, especially recently. He's 9-for-28 (.321) this spring and 4-for-11 with three runs, a double and a homer in his last five games, albeit mostly in a substitute role.

"It's spring training. You're only going to have a certain amount of at-bats period," Dickerson said. "But in spring, just like any other competitor, you're competing for a spot on this team, so you're going to approach every game and every at-bat as so."

The competition for the reserve outfield spot is tough. Steve Pearce and Conor Jackson, who can play the corner outfield spots and first base, have both had solid camps. Lew Ford, Trayvon Robinson and Russ Canzler are also in the mix for the spot, and the health of starters Nick Markakis (neck) and Nolan Reimold (shoulder) will also play a role.

"They've gotten a lot of at-bats by design," Showalter said. "When these guys come in the game, they're not going to lose the opportunity to try to impress. We're going over some of the non-roster invitations and some of the non-roster guys in the past. You can look at where we were and the level of those guys we have now. The great thing is we have a chance to hold on to all of them."

Meanwhile, Dickerson continues to work to spread the word of environmental awareness through Players for the Planet, which he founded with former major league pitcher Jack Cassel, the older brother of NFL quarterback Matt Cassel.

"Basically for me, I spent all my life growing up in Southern California and spending a lot of time at the beach and just seeing how the damage is done more when we don't throw away our garbage and we're not cognizant of what we're doing to the environment around us," Dickerson said. "We used to have kids who couldn't show up to practice because or bad air, especially in [Los Angeles] with the amount of cars on the road."

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