Ryan Dempster Joins 'From Phenom To The Farm:' Episode 55
Ryan Dempster wasn’t supposed to throw in the 2008 All-Star Game.
Coming off a stellar first half in his first year back in the rotation with the Cubs, Dempster had thrown just days prior. National League manager Clint Hurdle, as well as his own manager Lou Pinella, told him that unfortunately he wouldn’t be available to pitch.
Naturally, this bummed out Dempster, as his return to the All-Star Game had been a long time in the making.
While he’d committed to Notre Dame out of the Canadian high school ranks after a storied amateur career, Dempster had little interest in college ball. He signed with the Rangers in the 1995 draft, despite when being asked about life in pro ball, he didn’t have much to go on.
"None--I really didn't,” said Dempster about if he hand any prior knowledge of the pro game. "I just knew that the bus rides were going to be long, and it was an opportunity."
Naturally, being 18 years old, he was also somewhat naive to the business side of baseball. As far as he was concerned, he’d be a Ranger for life. Then the Marlins called, looking for a trade partner for John Burkett.
"I'm gonna be with these guys forever--these are my guys. Texas Ranger, got the vanity thing around the license plate, t shirts for the family--and then boom, I get traded," said Dempster. "It broke my heart."
The deal proved to be a blessing for the young righthander. Following the Marlins firesale in the winter of 1997-1998, Dempster and a boatload of other young talent earned significant big league time on the depleted Marlins’ 1998 roster, which allowed the 21-year-old to adapt to the show without the pressure of a pennant race.
He’d make his first All-Star Game in 2000, fly out friends and family to the game–then not get in to pitch. That year’s N.L. manager Bobby Cox shook his hand, apologized for not getting him in, and then told him “you’ll be back.”
Eight seasons passed before Dempster had that chance again. He’d battled ineffectiveness, Tommy John surgery, then developed into a stellar reliever before finally finding himself back in the Cubs rotation in 2008, again reaching All-Star status.
After being given the disappointing news Dempster prepared like a guy who wouldn’t be pitching–that is, he didn’t prepare at all. Some light toss, that’s about it.
Fast-forward to the 9th inning, where Yankees legend Mariano Rivera was giving his home fans a reason to get loud as he threw the top half of the inning of a tie game, the N.L. was realizing they might need to stretch out their pitching staff more than originally thought, as the game appeared headed to extras (it would eventually end in 15 innings). That left Clint Hurdle looking right at Dempster.
“I’m going to the bathroom, and I hear a BANG BANG BANG on the door, then a ‘Hey if it’s still tied, you’re in,’” said Dempster. “You’re telling me that I’m not pitching, it is not happening—and now you’re going to send me out in the bottom of the 9th inning in front of 50,000 fans, after Mariano Rivera just pitched.”
Dempster hustled out to the bullpen to start throwing to a familiar face—his regular season catcher Giovanni Soto had already been pulled from the game and was now warming up his fellow Cub. Unfortunately forth both Soto and Dempster, it was likely the worst bullpen session shared between them, as Dempster couldn’t find the zone to save his life. He wasn’t exactly the beacon of confidence upon entering the game.
“I walked out of that bullpen and thought ‘Wow, I just lost the All-Star Game,’” said Dempster.
He then sat down Ian Kinsler, Dioner Navarro, and J.D. Drew—three up, three down, on strikeouts.
On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm’ former big league All-Star Ryan Dempster joins to discuss his 16-year MLB career. He talks being traded during his first professional season, coming up with a lot of young talent on the 1998 Marlins, and lessons learned from picking the brain of Greg Maddux.