Proud Canadian Dempster humbled by ball hall induction

2019 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ryan Dempster stands beside his game-worn Chicago Cubs jersey inside the museum prior to his induction on Saturday. Photo: J.P. Antonacci

2019 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ryan Dempster stands beside his game-worn Chicago Cubs jersey inside the museum prior to his induction on Saturday. Photo: J.P. Antonacci

June 16, 2019

By J.P. Antonacci

Canadian Baseball Network

The last time Ryan Dempster appeared in a competitive baseball game, he wore the Maple Leaf across his chest as a member of Team Canada at the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

On Saturday in St Marys, Ont., one of the best Canadian pitchers of all time wore the Maple Leaf once again, this time on a blazer announcing him as a newly minted member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

The pride of Gibsons, BC called joining the pantheon of Canada’s baseball elite “a tremendous honour.”

“It’s extremely humbling and something I’m super grateful for,” Dempster said. “As a player, I took great pride in being a Canadian along the way.”

Among Canadian pitchers, Dempster is second all-time in most statistical categories, including wins (132), strikeouts (2,075) and innings pitched (2,387). The leader in those categories, Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, was among a large group of Canadian baseball luminaries on hand to cheer on the Hall of Fame’s all-Canadian class.

Dempster joked that he wasn’t “buddy-buddy” with fellow inductee Jason Bay when they did battle on the diamond – Dempster on the mound for the Chicago Cubs and Bay digging in as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ star outfielder.

“But you always acknowledged the fact that you were facing a fellow Canadian across the field,” Dempster said.

Induction day was a family affair for Dempster, with his children and his parents among a group of relatives and friends who joined in the celebration.

“It’s really, really special. They were part of the whole journey with me,” Dempster said.

“You don’t do anything in life without a great support system. Especially something like this. To come from Gibsons, British Columbia, taking ferry rides and long commutes and all these things, they always had my back along the way. Every moment of my career, whether it was all-star games, playoff games, they were there. So to have them here today, it’s kind of fitting and I’m glad they’re here.”

Dempster’s 16-year career arc was unique in that he came up as a starter, later excelled out of the bullpen, and then enjoyed several more productive years in the rotation before punctuating his career with a 2013 World Series win with the Boston Red Sox.

This is a close-up of Ryan Dempster’s two World Series rings. He won one as a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox in 2013 and another while serving as a special assistant to the president with the Chicago Cubs in 2016. Photo: J.P. Antonacci

This is a close-up of Ryan Dempster’s two World Series rings. He won one as a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox in 2013 and another while serving as a special assistant to the president with the Chicago Cubs in 2016. Photo: J.P. Antonacci

He was an all-star with the Florida Marlins in 2000, winning the Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill Award on the strength of a 14-10 record and 3.66 ERA across 226 1/3 innings. After signing with the Cubs in 2004, Dempster was a dominant closer for three seasons before returning to the rotation in 2008. That ended up being a savvy move, as he made his second all-star team – with fellow Canadian Russell Martin behind the plate – and finished sixth in Cy Young voting that season by going 17-6 with a sparkling 2.96 ERA.

“Definitely two different animals,” Dempster said when describing the difference between starting and closing.

As a starter, he had four days to prepare for each game and plan how he would pitch to each hitter.

“It’s a bit of a chess game,” he said. “As a closer, you don’t any time to set anybody out. It’s ‘get three outs before that tying run scores.’ That’s the mentality.

“I loved starting. I was a starting pitcher my whole life, so to do that was something I was a lot more comfortable with. But the adrenaline rush of the ninth inning, that’s one of the coolest feelings in all of professional sports.”

Another special feeling was playing for his country, which Dempster first did as a pitcher for the Junior National Team in the 1993 and 1994 World Youth Championship tournaments.

Despite being four years removed from professional baseball, Dempster answered the call when Canada’s 2017 World Baseball Classic squad found itself short of pitching. He worked himself into game shape and toed the rubber against the Dominican Republic and the United States, starting two games in four days.

“One of the biggest things was the challenge of it all, and to show my kids that if you work hard for something, you can do it,” Dempster.

“To put Canada across my chest – we live in the United States, my kids are American citizens, but they’re Canadian as well. To show them that side of their life and for them to be proud Canadians at that moment at that stadium, with 38,000 Dominican fans and the 500 Canadian fans we had there, was really special.”

Though the results weren’t what he’d hoped for – Canada was swept out of the tournament in the first round – Dempster said it was a thrill to be out there again, playing alongside Team Canada mainstays like Justin Morneau as well as “the new wave of talent” represented by players like Josh Naylor and Nick Pivetta.

“I’m a proud Canadian, and I believe that Canadians are humble, hardworking human beings. So when you wear that across your chest, it’s kind of exemplifying who you are,” Dempster said.

“I wish we would have done a little better, but once again, as a Canadian it’s not always about the results. It’s about the process and how you go about it. It was a great memory and I’m so glad I had the chance to do that again and end it all that way.”