By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
MIAMI, Fla. – No one quite knew what to expect from Ryan Dempster when he took the hill for Team Canada to open the World Baseball Classic against the reigning-champion Dominican Republic in Miami on Thursday night.
The 39-year-old right-hander hadn’t stepped on a mound competitively since the 2013 World Series with the Boston Red Sox, Canadian manager Ernie Whitt hadn’t seen him throw prior to giving him the ball, and he hadn’t worn his home country’s colours in more than two decades, but Dempster did everything he could to exemplify just what the red-and-white uniform meant to him.
“[The experience] was pretty unique and stood by itself,” he said. “I haven’t had time to process it all yet, but it was pretty special for me to do that. It was very special for me to put ‘Canada’ across my chest for the first time in 23 years and represent the country. I know I didn’t go out there and get us a win but I’d like to think that I represented us in a very classy, hardworking way, and as Canadians do it. That’s a great thing.”
Dempster completed two innings for Canada against the defending champs, allowing four runs in the second and a total of seven hits, walking one and fanning one batter. His fastball was up to 91 miles an hour, and outside of execution problems, he looked like the Dempster of old.
“I definitely built to that,” the native of Gibsons, BC said. “When I first starting throwing I think it was more like 80, 81, so it’s taken a while. I would have been happier with 88 and a little bit better location a few times, but I’m happy with the way my arm felt. I’m happy with the whole journey to get to that point, to go out there and start that game, it was a tremendous honour.”
Showcasing an impressive level of perseverance, confidence, and grit on the mound, Dempster impressed many of the players around him with not only what he did but how he did it and the attitude he did it with, making it clear that he wants to throw again in the first round of play in Miami.
“He’s got to have some kind of recovery, man,” Team USA starter Danny Duffy said. “He looked good out there last night, too. He’s taken a couple years off and goodness gracious, he looked really good. So, if he said that he could bounce back today, I mean, tip my cap, man. That’s gnarly.”
With 4 1/2 months of diligent preparation for what could potentially be just one appearance with the national squad, Dempster enjoyed the entire process and was happy with the experience it led to.
“The challenge of it all was really appealing to me,” the two-time all-star said. “I had people along the way going, ‘Oh man, why would you do that? You’re going to get hurt.’ It’s the challenge of going out there and pitching in the WBC against the best hitters in the world. What more exciting thing is there to do than that right there?”
Heading right back into retirement when Canada’s run at the fourth WBC comes to an end, the squad from north of the border was fortunate to have the 16-year major league veteran around, not only as a competitor but for the wisdom he’s shared along the way and the relationships he’s developed within the national team program.
“I enjoyed every bit of tonight,” Dempster said. “That’s probably the least upset I’ve been after pitching as poorly as I did in that second inning in my entire career. I really did just soak it all in. I was proud of myself for not being afraid to fail, and to go out there and work hard towards something. And along the lines of all of it, we’ve got a bunch of young kids on this staff who are really good …
“Somewhere down the line here in the last few days and over the course of the next few and hopefully longer, you can pass along some of the things you learn in your journey, in my journey, to them. To me, that’s far greater of a reward I can give than going out and winning a ball game. It’s all about the next generation and how we’ve got some really great guys here on the team, and the future’s bright for them.”
With Team Canada at the forefront of his mind, there is also some thought that his time with the squad could keep Dempster involved further with the national program.
“I’ve been involved with [Baseball Canada] from kind of afar,” he said. “If the opportunity arises to be around it a little bit more, I’m sure I’d be happy to do that. I enjoy the game of baseball obviously. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t be going through this whole thing to get back and try to be ready to pitch.
“I was ready to pitch tonight. That’s the nice part. I wasn’t out there throwing 80 miles an hour with some sort of make believe idea that I could do this. I actually had the stuff. I just didn’t execute a few pitches and because of that, they hit some balls hard. The next time out, I’ll just be a little bit better.”