Players For The Planet with Chris Dickerson

December 8, 2020

As a high school, college and professional baseball player, Dickerson understands what dedication, hard work and a drive to win means off and on the field. Drafted as a senior in high school by The New York Yankees, he decided to go on to college instead and spent the next three years at the University of Nevada, Reno until he was drafted in his junior year by the Cincinnati Reds. He made his major league debut with the Reds in 2008. Dickerson’s MLB career spanned 8 seasons and teams including the Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and the Cleveland Indians.

Although playing professional baseball was always Dickerson’s dream, his passion has always been the environment and trying to find solutions to the damage. The huge amounts of plastic cups used at every major league game, prompted he and fellow baseball player Jack Cassel, to team up to address the devastation of plastics on the environment by establishing Players For the Planet, an organization that brings professional athletes together to inspire communities and build awareness of the growing environmental crises we face globally by participating in major recycling and clean-up programs, as well as sponsoring educational seminars.

John Shegerian: This edition of the impact podcast is brought to you by the Marketing Masters. The Marketing Masters is a boutique marketing agency offering website development and digital marketing services to small and medium businesses across America. For more information on how they can help you grow your business online, please visit the marketingmasters.com.

John: Welcome to another edition of the impact podcast. I am John Shegerian and I am so honored to have with us today Chris Dickerson. He is the co-founder of Players for the Planet. Welcome to the impact podcast, Chris.

Chris Dickerson: What is happening, John?

John: Hey, Chris. You are making the world a better and greener place with Players for the Planet, but you were first a baseball player. I want to talk a little bit about your journey growing up, who are heroes, how you became a baseball player, where you played, a little bit about your career, and then we are going to talk about all the impacts and great things you do with Players for the Planet. Can you share a little bit of your background and bio growing up and becoming a professional baseball player?

Chris: Yeah, for sure. I appreciate you having me on the show. But just to correct you, I became an environmentalist before I became a baseball player.

John: I love it. That is great. Tell me why. Tell me how.

Chris: I did not really consider myself a baseball player so I was like a junior in high school. It is just not something that I really would super passionate about. I played other sports and I was far more interested in football, baseball, basketball. I started playing hockey. Those were my main passion. So, if I could have really sort of rewind on, I definitely would have chosen– Actually, I would not have chosen, I actually quit soccer because nobody cares about soccer in the U.S. in 1998, 1999.

John: Right. True. It is true though. Well, where did you grow up, anyway? Where did you grow up in the United States?

Chris: I grew up in Southern California and grew up in Los Angeles.

John: Oh, you were?

Chris: [inaudible].

John: Okay.

Chris: Yeah. My first love was football and soccer, but it was through playing football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and hockey, all this stuff is that you understand the importance of the environment around you being in kind of these green spaces. Number two is being in L.A. you understand how our surroundings impact sports performance, whether you are going surfing or you are going bodyboarding, whatever. There is toxic runoff because we are being idiots about how we manage the waste from shoreline development. Then that is an issue, that is something that you have noticed. It is not hard to because when you go into school the next day with your buddies and they get really sick from being in these environments. You know where the stuff is happening. It really throws up a flag in your head and it is something that becomes a constant notice. Again, when you play outdoor sports and kids are not able to show up to practice because of high smog alerts and they have asthma, that makes you look into it a little bit more. Then, when you go on field trips, you are going out to these mountain ranges, to these open parks and conservation places. You understand what conservation is, what the importance of habitat restoration is, what is the importance of the relationship between humans and city development in these natural habitats, and what the effect these habitats have on our livelihood. Far before I was a professional baseball player, I felt like I was an environmentalist being able to have access to so much biodiversity and such a vast spectrum of typography, and just what Southern California is.

Chris: So, I think that was the biggest thing for me. Then as I got older and I got into college and then got into professional baseball, with one particular year that I happened to get really sick and I had the flu for New Year’s so I just stayed home and watched documentaries. One of those documentaries was an Inconvenient Truth, and that was the one that sent me on the warpath.

John: It is a great movie. Great, great documentary. Were mom and dad environmentally minded? Do you remember anything in the house–

Chris: Yeah, my dad was the best. Basically, I would not say he [inaudible], it was pretty solid. It was a well-put-together contraption for sorting out glass, newspaper, regular trash, and plastic products, and this is 1994.

John: Wow, dad was early on this game.

Chris: Yeah, early, but you also know that before being in a very progressive state, one of the few that introduced the multi-use recycling bins. You have your black bin, you would have your blue bin, you would have your green bin for compost that was not like a thing to do back in, but put grass clippings in. Then, you had your yellow bin for an old newspaper. So, we had all that, and then we have that internally in the house. My dad had put together this whole waste sorting kind of contraption in the kitchen made of PVC pipes.

John: That is awesome.

Chris: That is how it started. I always thank my dad for instilling that because it is one of those things where when you have that type of access and experience with it, you understand the importance, and then from there you can choose how to build on those lessons learned and that is exactly what I did.

John: Is dad still alive?

Chris: Yes.

John: He must be so damn proud of what you are doing now with Players for the Planet. We are going to get into that in a second.

Chris: Yeah, my dad is a Trump supporter. He is drinking the Kool-Aid over there.

John: All right. Well, that is okay. That is okay. We are going to give dad a pass. He was all into recycling early so we are going to give a pass on that one. That is okay.

Chris: Yeah, exactly.

John: You know what I mean but talk a little bit about evolving as an athlete, and then, I guess choosing baseball is where you are going to focus your energies on and what that led to?

Chris: Yeah, and it was basically, I always say that baseball won by default. I told you I quit soccer after going through the whole Olympic development program and club soccer. I got cut from a national team U16 regional try out for the national team. I said, “Hey, listen if there is that many people that are better than me at sixteen in the state then what is the most that I have to look forward to, what is the MLS making thirty-five thousand dollars a year?” So, I moved on. I decided to put my focus solely on baseball and football and unfortunately, I had a degenerative issue or orthopedic issue in my knees that soon kind of cut football short. It started around thirteen years old and it progressively got worse. One summer, I had a bone lesion in the middle of the joint, and that was a major, major surgery that put my entire career at risk. It was basically stated by the doctor if this was not a successful surgery that likely that my involvement in organized sports at that high level would be severely diminished and probably would not be able to play past the age of twenty-one due to arthritis. The surgery went well, but it is just something I battled through. His main concern with my excessive pain tolerance. The fact that I was able to get to that point given my condition.

Chris: Then, what preceded that was throughout my professional career is just being able to be extremely resilient with coming back from injuries and playing through pain. But ultimately, once I had to give up football and that was a tough thing. Our high school coach, Ben [inaudible] athletic director, we had a good laugh at it when I came back. When I would come back to visit the school because he was notably and visibly upset that I would quit football and it was not till years later that he finally apologized and told me why he was so disappointed because he thought I could have been an all-time great State wide receiver. So, that was a tough one to give up. It was just one thing that summer I just happened to come into my own on the baseball field and had a tremendous summer and started getting heavily recruited, started getting letters from MLB Scouts throwing out that question or just kind of going through that process. Then, sure enough, my senior year, I got drafted by the New York Yankees in the thirty-third round but decided to go to college.

John: That is pretty much every little boy’s dream, though, getting drafted by the New York Yankees. Come on, that is pretty cool.

Chris: Yeah. It was pretty cool. My mom is from Brooklyn. My grandparents live in Queens. My grandfather took me to my first Yankee game when I was ten years old at the old Yankee Stadium. So, yeah, it was pretty special. Even more special to have it come full circle, end up playing for the Yankees for two years.

John: Wow, that is incredible. I love it. When you were growing up in L.A., what team were you? What were your favorite football and baseball teams?

Chris: Oh, Dodgers and Rams. [inaudible] with the Rams back in the day and Dodgers, one hundred percent Bleed Blue. I broke out my 1988 World Series with the cartoon characters on the front and people lose their minds.

John: [inaudible]

Chris: [inaudible], I was in Cub Scouts and we were on a camping trip in Elysian Park around Dodger Stadium. My dad who is a die-hard Dodger fanatic. He is that guy who has got his Dodger cushion. He is on the radio, 790 KABC, listen to Vin Scully on his handheld radio. He is keeping score, and so he was dialed into this game. Just absolutely dialed into this game in ’88 when we are on this camping trip, and we were in a trailer for a dessert party kind of get-together. I remember we had this big peach Cobbler party and we are in there and the game is on TV. There is like seven or eight-foot clearance on the ceilings, and under the panels and my dad is six-foot-four.

John: Oh, my God.

Chris: I remember Gibson hitting this home run. He jumped through the panels and the panels came crashing down.

John: Oh, my gosh. That was a heck of a moment when Kirk Gibson hit that ball and just made the rounds of the bases and hobbled through it. That is one of the most iconic memories in all of world series history and all of sports history, frankly.

Chris: [inaudible] all sports history.

John: All sports history. I mean, that is incredible.

Chris: He had a torn hamstring and like a meniscus tear, something like that. He could barely swing the bat and he basically said, “I have one good swing in me.”

John: You were a Lakers fan also growing up, I assume?

Chris: Yeah, absolutely.

John: Then you are having a great year right now. Even though it is COVID and everything else, I mean, Dodgers, Lakers– And the Rams are playing heads up. I mean, you are having a great sports year right now.

Chris: Yeah, they are playing well. It was nice to see the Lakers get that title, obviously, been a tough year for Lakers fans. So, yeah, it was pretty special. Obviously, luckily it will not be like an asterisk year like baseball.

John: Yeah.

Chris: They did their trials and tribulations and pause the season, but they played the full boat. So, pretty special for them. Obviously, was not the same as watching the world’s best [inaudible] game, tucked away on that bubble with no fans.

John: I agree. Hey, listen. You get drafted by the Yankees, two years with the Yankees. For our listeners who just joined us, we got Chris Dickerson with us. He is the co-founder of Players for the Planet. You could go to www.playersfortheplane.org.com. All the great work Chris and his colleagues and other players are doing to make the world a better and greener place. Chris, talk a little bit about Yankees two years, where did you go from there as a professional baseball player?

Chris: Yeah, so from there, I went to Baltimore. Baltimore ended up being a really special place for me. Being with Adam Jones and some of those guys on that team, it was a different vibe. You kind of get back into that team vibe but it does not feel like it is just a bunch of individuals that are– They are playing for a team goal, but there is a difference when you have a group of guy that interact, hang out, and go to dinner. There is more of a team vibe. It is different. Everybody is sitting around after games and eating dinner. In New York, it is one of those things where the guys have their private chefs and they can even go home and eat at home. It is like, “All right. Well–Everybody else is sitting at dinner in our dining area and these guys are– the big guys are walking out to go and do their own thing.

Chris: That is where those teams are built, essentially is at the dinner table sitting around, playing cards, long after the game is over. Having these kinds of opportunities to spend time outside, actually in public, and being as big as those guys were, they rarely have the opportunity to do that. They were just too recognizable just to go out, to have that opportunity. One of my favorite and first Derek Jeter stories is he is getting invited to go get coffee with [inaudible] and Posada, walking down the street with our team security and seeing the reaction from people to Derek, that is when I knew– I was like my first or second week with the team, I knew that he was just a different level of superstar that I never experienced before.

John: It does give you a whole feeling to understand what the Beatles and The Stones and all the great rock stars, baseball, and football stars of the world must go through, and basketball stars too, by the way.

Chris: Yeah, that is exactly it. When people ask me they are like, “Oh, yeah, [inaudible] with the Yankees,” and I was like, the only way I can put it is like playing baseball with the Beatles.

John: Right.

Chris: [inauidble what I say because any Stadium, anywhere we go, there are five hundred people outside the hotel. Every state that you go to, there are more Yankees fans for batting practice in, and then there is homestand. People chasing Derek down the street and Mariano, these guys are just next-level superstars, hall of fame, icons of the game of baseball.

John: Mmm. So, you were in Baltimore, and where did you go from there?

Chris: Baltimore. I went to Pittsburgh and then ended up getting traded to Cleveland. Then went on to– Where did I go after that? The team starts piling up at this point.

John: The Big Red Machine. Was it the Big Red Machine?

Chris: No, that is where I came up with that– No, I came up with [inaudible] and then went to New York.

John: Oh, they [inaudible] in New York. Got it.

Chris: Yeah, and then went to Toronto and I had major shoulder surgery. I completely tore my rotator cuff and I thought that was going to be it. So, I rehab for a year and missed part of the 2016 season and that is when I want to start making my transition into sports broadcasting. It was fortunate enough to get some early opportunities that the MLB Network as a studio analyst.

John: That is great.

Chris: I continue that for about a year while rebuilding what I had built with Players for the Planet now that I had all this time and that is about at the same time that this was happening. We did our first beach clean-up in the Dominican Republic as a result of the plastic wave video that came out on CNN. The insane amount of plastic that was being washed ashore in the Dominican Republic. We were able to go down and get some of the support from some of my ex-teammates like Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and all these other great Dino Dominican stars to come out and be involved with that. That kind of put us back on the map and that is when things really started to pick up. But that 2016 when I went to go to see Baltimore when they came to L.A. to play and went to go see Adam Jones. He was on the field. He left me passes for field level. Buck Showalter tell the manager that time invited me to come like under the rope and hang out by the batting [inaudible]. Two weeks later, he called and he invited me back. He asked me if I was ready to go and my talent could be reused going into September and going into the playoff run.

Chris: Basically, I came out of retirement, started to do rehab, and started to get back in shape. I mean, it is something– I never really get out of shape. So, that was kind of a really easy transition. It was just doing baseball work. And sure enough, in 2016 I was right back in Baltimore Orioles uniform.

John: Wow.

Chris: I came back and I stayed with the team until 2017 when I retired.

John: What year did you found Players for the Planet?

Chris: In 2008.

John: Wow.

Chris: Which is my rookie year. But I actually started doing this as a result of an initiative that I did while I was in the minor league. I was in AAA and I was just tired of seeing the amount of plastic that was being used in the clubhouse. So, I brought it upon myself to reach out to a reusable water bottle company to send me fifty bottles for the entire team and staff to see if we could cut down on the amount of plastic, and sure enough, it worked. You have these great bottles that everybody was carrying around and it said in big bold red letters, “I AM NOT PLASTIC.” It kind of stuck with people and it got up a lot of attention from espn.com and mlb.com. By the time I got called up, I had seen the attention that it got because people had these fan club signs with the recycling symbol. So, it was something that I saw was being admired and that people were looking for solutions to make the world a greener place and to start making changes. I thought as an [inaudible], I could use my platform to encourage and inspire other people to do so.

John: Now that you are officially retired and you have time on your hands, you are back in your hometown in L.A., where do you want to take it from here? What can you do with Players for the Planet? How many players have become part of this great organization? And how big can you take this now, Chris? Now that you are very young, you have got lots of connections, you have got a great career behind you, but all this white space in front of you to make the world a better place. What is your vision and your dream now?

Chris: I mean, I think the vision as it stands now is kind of coming to fruition. It is more just kind of keeping your ear to the ground and understanding what is happening in the world and whose concerning themselves with what issues and how best to speak to those issues and find a way to integrate these values into sports, connect with professional sports teams and professional sports athletes. To not only use their advice as to how to engage people but how can we do it at a league level to where we are starting to do widespread initiatives that can create massive change. And one of those things that we saw was developing our first E-Waste event in Cincinnati, where we recycled over two hundred and fifty thousand pounds in three days. That event became a staple in Cincinnati over the next eight years and then kind of branched out to Texas and Kansas City. We had a similar response this year going to 2020 and having six or seven teams on board to get involved with E-Waste.

Chris: It was from there that I understood that we can really make a difference and provide opportunities for these teams that do not know or looking for community engagement and to address some of these issues because they are rapidly expanding, unfortunately, but there are things that we can do to mitigate some of this consumption and some of these issues that we have created for ourselves and E-Waste was a big one. Now, moving into ecology and getting guys like Brent Suitor who have a passion for conservation and reforestation and to be able to speak to that. It is been one after another and I think I am very fortunate to have these types of athletes that are out there and that can be able to identify with specific causes that we can speak upon, really expand, and truly become innovators in the space in how we integrate some of these innovators and how we change the role of the professional athlete in the environmental space and being an environmental activist and offering these professional sports teams and leagues innovative ways to integrate some of these more sustainable practices on a major, major level.

Chris: You know that these sports arenas and stadiums are their cultural centers. So, the more we can push, innovate, create opportunity, and create change with these massive amounts of people that are on these games and look up to these athletes, I think we are only scratching the iceberg of what is possible. Another one of those is when we did twelve hundred bottles with the Seattle Mariners in Tampa Rays this past season to try to cut out all plastic from the clubhouse by providing them reusable water bottles from every player, from the lowest minor league to the big leagues.

John: Chris, kudos to you for choosing E-Waste as one of your initiatives. E-Waste is the fastest-growing solid waste room in the world and they are so much extra out of it. So, good for you on that. Talk about the stakeholders, the players, the teams, and the leagues. Are you finding it a bigger mountain to climb than you thought to recruit players, teams, and leagues? Or is everyone now sort of have– Originally, when Inconvenient Truth came out, there was all this excitement, but that is sort of died down for a while. Now, both the iconic Jane Fonda, original activists considered in America. She is one of them and she is back at it again. You have the new young generation, Greta Thunberg and it seems like every generation in between which would be you are really now into the environment. I mean, one of my best friends from childhood who lives down in [inaudible] Hills, last night texted me a picture from his balcony, “There is fires going on in Irvine. These fires up here in Fresno, right close to us here in the Sierras.” I mean, our state’s on fire. The climate change is for real. Talk about the stakeholders a little bit. Are they into it? Are they making your life easy? Or is it a harder sell than you thought it was going to be?

Chris: No, it is probably the easiest, I think that is why we have been able to have the success that we are in the adoption that we have had because you have teams that are there– They are hiring from within, they have sustainability of departments, they have much broader sustainability initiatives. So, having some of the programs and now having the athletes to support and spread awareness to these is what particularly valuable to them. It is almost like I created a Rolodex of athletes for these teams to look and see who is into this and who can we utilize to garner support and spread the word, kind of be the face for some of these initiatives that these organizations are doing. It is unfortunate that is how it works because I have said before and in many interviews, I did this in 2008 when it was not a cool thing, and going green was just basically a buzzword.

John: Right.

Chris: Buzzword. Buy these, take your plastic bags, conserve this, and do this. Go green, go green and there was not really a whole lot of action and that is only going to do so much in the grand scheme of things, especially at the time when going into the UN, the climate passed in 2009. You have the three-fifty plan and that was to not exceed three hundred fifty parts per million for carbon because once it is over three-fifty that is when we experience the temperature change. Sure enough, we shot right through that. The red flags were there, we just denied and ignored it. So, here we are ten years later where we are in basically, climate peril. Now, people are just starting to notice and take this seriously, and with that comes an increased narrative of what people can do and how these larger organizations can get involved in really to try to do their best, to create sustainable practices at such a high level. Because of that, it is been nice to go to that so many teams are doing different initiatives that we can collaborate on or that we can get our players involved in. The same thing goes for the young kids, this next generation of athletes. Essentially, they are going to be the ones that are the most affected by this.

Chris: Just like my daughter when she is older, this is going to be serious issues that she is going to have to face. But for these kids that are nineteen, twenty there at colleges are the most vocal about it. They are the ones that are reaching out looking to make their impact. They are the ones who are emailing and offering to sign up and wanted to get involved in every event that we do. I just added three more players today. One of them is an international tennis player, one AVP volleyball player. We just started our student-athlete program for these NCAA student-athletes that want to come on board. We have created an intern group that meets every Tuesday. It is kids from Michigan, from the University of Notre Dame, from Texas A&M, from UCLA, from Berkeley, from Vanderbilt, from Haverford. They are all student-athletes that are kind of in this environment of space looking to make a difference on their campus and through sports [inaudible].

John: So, this goes way beyond baseball, Chris. This is any type of athlete, student-athlete, or football player, tennis player, basketball player, anyone could become one of your player ambassadors and partners with you. This is not just for baseball players.

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. One of those things where it just so happened that we had so much attraction after those clean-up events. When you have that type of word of mouth and you have these players of influence that are going down and you see them working and cleaning up in their own country. You see that, especially through social media. Your teammates follow these guys and they are curious as to how they can help and it becomes kind of a word of mouth type of deal. We have really expanded in the baseball community because of that because we have had such influential individuals that being a part of this. Originally, when I started this, we had NHL, we had MLS. With MLS, AVP, NFL, NBA players, it is hard to identify players in all these sports that are outside our particular sports networks. That is been kind of difficult to find but as we have kind of got more notoriety, we have started to get more attention from around the sustainable sports world through word of mouth from, “Hey, go check out this group. Just check out this group.” “Hey, I heard you on the podcast. I heard you on green sports alliance global summit.” Now, we are getting back to expanding out of baseball.

John: That is wonderful. How can people take action? Your website is great. I am on it right now, playersfortheplanet.org. People can donate and do other things, what other things you want people? What calls to action do you want to put out there for our listeners to get involved and help your great organization grow?

Chris: Yeah, I mean, we would love for people to sign up and we are going to be launching a newsletter at the end of the month to keep people in the loop on any activities that we are going to be doing, whether that is going to be in the Dominican or the next E-Waste event in a participating major league city in their city. Then, just to see who is coming on board to offer tips from the plaster of athletes that we have, blogs and stuff like that. So, just to keep everybody posted. Then, we will always have tips. But the most impactful thing that you can do is we are living in the age of information where you can find five things that you can do on a daily basis, whether it is just taking a bike rather than driving a car or start a compost bin, switch to LED lighting in the house, or get mini solar panels to do provide power to some of your lamps and lighting in the house. There is action and then we want to be there to help create opportunities and education for people to change their lifestyle bit by bit.

John: I love it. Chris, I am going to give you the last word before we say goodbye for today but we are going to have you back on to give updates on your great organization. Do you have any final thoughts for our listeners out there before you and I sign off for today?

Chris: Yeah, check this out. Check the website out. As you said, I mean, the biggest thing is we want people to be a part of our community. We want people to be a part of this experience. Sports is the great unifier and everybody’s got a sports team in their town and continued building this message on how we can help educate and how we can take this to different individuals whether they are high school kids, middle school kids, college student-athletes, we want to be able to bridge the gap between all of these and provide sustainable resources for kids and every level of play and throughout their life cycle into the workforce. That is our biggest factor.

John: I love it.

Chris: A lot of that support comes from everybody to provide opportunities to create these programs.

John: Chris, that is awesome.

Chris: That is it.

John: And we are going to have you back on again to keep giving updates on all the great work you are doing. For our listeners out there, again, to find Chris and his colleagues and all the great work they are doing and to join on and become part of the solution and take action go to www.playersfortheplanet.org. Chris Dickerson, you are making a huge impact. You are making the world a greener and better place. For that, I am grateful. Thank you for being with us today on the Impact and thank you for making the world just a plain better and greener place.

Chris: Thanks, John. I appreciate it.