By Deryck Kissoondath

Ryan Dempster
Ryan Dempster

For Gibsons native Ryan Dempster, the time had finally arrived and he was poised to be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.  It was much anticipated as hostess Hazel Mae, and most of his fellow inductees, including Gord Ash, Rob Thomson, and fellow BC native, Jason Bay, marvelled at the speech they would hear from Dempster.  It was a speech filled with his true sense of humbleness and exuding with humour.  According to Dempster “Getting into any Hall of Fame, as a player, you take great pride. You appreciate the Jays and Expos and to be sitting here, at the Hall of Fame, is humbling and something to be grateful for!”

Before receiving his Hall of Fame jacket, Mae read a message that was sent from the Cubs Tom Ricketts, Executive Chairman of the Chicago Cubs, and Theo Epstein, who applauded Dempster’s induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.  The note read “The Cubs organization joins the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in honouring the remarkable career of Ryan Dempster. Ryan’s tireless work ethic and sense of determination were key in making the journey from a small town of Gibsons, BC, to a long and successful major league career. A true All-star both on and off the field we thank Ryan for being a wonderful ambassador for the Cubs organization and our beloved sport.  In true Dempster fashion he always brings unmatched class and character to everything he does.  We are proud to call Ryan Dempster, a member of our Cubs family and celebrate this outstanding achievement with him as well as his family and many fans!”

As he was introduced, Dempster was thrilled to have his jacket put on by fellow Canadian and long-time Chicago Cub, Fergie Jenkins.  Dempster was sincere in telling a story of when he was recovering from Tommy John surgery and met Fergie on the field. “I was in the back fields and didn’t know how to throw a changeup, coming off of surgery.  Fergie Jenkins took the time to show me and I went on to have the best years of my career as a Chicago Cub.”  After honouring his mentor, Dempster added in a serious voice “You appreciate stats after you stop playing – Fergie led in Wins/Games Started/Strike Outs, I finished second to the greatest pitcher our country has ever seen.  I thought that’s not fair, he didn’t have all those, so I started diving deeper.”  He paused as though in deep thought and said “I beat you in walks, hit by pitches, and you didn’t even touch the 12 grand slams I gave up.”  

Much of Dempster’s 25 minute speech had the crowd laughing yet he was also quick to add a more serious tone alluding to the discipline, hard work, and good baseball people that he met along the way. “Professional players aren’t born, they are made…something or someone helps facilitate that at some point whether it is a coach or family member, they steer you in that direction. For me it was my papa, Cliff Dempster who sat me on his lap and taught me about baseball, and then I started playing Slopitch with my parents who gave me a glove and stuck me in the outfield.”

In no time he was back to “Work ethic and discipline make your breaks.  When opportunity knocks you don’t crack open the door, you kick it down.”  It was definitely going to be a serious take on his philosophy but then he added more “According to Mike Tyson, discipline is doing hard work you don’t want to do, and doing it with enthusiasm. He also has a tattoo on his face and bit a guy’s ear off in the ring, I’m not sure how to trust him.  But seriously discipline is to do a six am workout, when I could have slept in, or go for that run, instead of sitting on a bike.”

Dempster’s message throughout his speech showed so many traces of being humble, being a proud Canadian and having a strong work ethic.  As he reflected on what he envisioned his career would be like he mentioned “To get to the big leagues that would be great, you look back and realized you did it for that long.  It’s pretty special, anything that I did wrong, they were learning moments in my life that helped me get better for the next year, and the next year.”

Did he achieve the goals he sought out originally?  “For sure, it would have been nice winning a Cy Young award and playing for 20 years. I always wanted to play 20 years but I came up a little short.  I wanted a career in baseball and not just a job playing baseball.”

When asked about the best memories during his career, he reflected on his 2013 World Series run and added that “How we came together from the first week of Spring Training when we were a bunch of outcasts. We turned around real quick.  We played together for one year and it felt like we had been playing together for 10 years.” He focussed on the 2013 season in Boston, and concluded that Boston was sad, and something that was lacking in the city, and that the baseball team would later become a beacon of hope for the city.  It was the year that bombing occurred during the Boston Marathon.  “Through tragedy came triumph, and we had this great responsibility and this amazing honour to provide a place where people could go to get away from something so tragic and horrible, and lift those spirits up.  Pain and suffering for so many people will never go away but we got to be a part of something really special and that’s an entire city being Boston strong.”

In his speech Dempster made note of all of the coaches and scouts who helped along the way from the early coaches of the Northshore Twins, scout Tim Holgren of the Texas Rangers, and Pitching Coach Brad Arnsberg, Jim Leyland, and Dusty Baker who cared for me more as a “human than a player,” all of whom had an impact, one way or another at different stages along his career path in the majors.  He also spoke clearly of the impact and faith that bench boss, John Farrell of the 2013 Boston Red Sox had in him.  As well, his fond memories of some of the people he played baseball with in the minors “We pushed each other to get better. I never wanted for anyone to do bad so I could go up, I wanted them to really well so that I could do better – push each other to do the best you can and push your teammates the same way.”

Ryan had nothing but admiration when he spoke of Jim Hendry, former General Manager and Vice-President of the Chicago Cubs. Dempster spoke of Hendry being the most honest man that he has ever met in the game of baseball “He always told it as it was. Sometimes you didn’t want to hear it but that’s the way it was. He brought me to Chicago, recovering from Tommy John Surgery, broke and unable to pitch.  He gave me an opportunity, signed me to a contract and I’ll forever be grateful to that. He gave me a three year contract, he gave me a four year contract, he gave my family financial security for a lifetime and for that alone, I’m so grateful.” He was also very thankful to come back to the Cubs to help them win a World Series after 108 years, which was truly incredible. “They treated me like a player on the 60 DL, with no chance of a rehab assignment. I’m forever grateful and thankful that Theo treated me that way. With so much respect and welcomed me with open arms.”

With Dempster’s perspective on things he had nothing but good things to say about Theo Epstein, the manager who would eventually trade him to the Texas Rangers. He mentioned how his 10 and 5 rights gave him the luxury of picking the team that he could be traded to that would give him a shot at a championship, while at the same time give the Cubs some opportunity to stockpile some young players as a core to rebuilding. According to Dempster, they tried trading him to nice teams, all of which he turned down including “The Yankees, and shave my beard, no way!” He reminisced about his biggest goal of winning a World Series, something he continually thought about while playing in Chicago.  When Dempster analyzed the package that he would be traded for his positive demeanour allowed him to evaluate that “Twelve starts for the Texas Rangers brought the Cubs 11 years of Kyle Hendricks and a World Series win!”

Dempster also thanked Craig Landis, who always worked in a father/son relationship with Dempster, even though he was his agent.  According to Dempster he was always allowed to make his own decisions without Landis taking over and making bad decisions for him.  He made reference to Dr. Tim Kremchek of the Cincinnati Reds, who performed Tommy John surgery on his elbow and allowed his career to both continue and flourish.

As his speech wound down Dempster saved the best for last. He spoke of 1999 and how his very good friend Mike Redmond was dealing with the sudden illness of his father.  He clearly remembered Redmond telling him “Demp don’t ever take it for granted that you are going to play another day in the big leagues.  I always thought that my Dad would be around forever and that my parents would be there. Have them around, have them be around. And my parents have been around for the entire journey. I learned that from Mike Redmond.” 

As Dempster glanced through the crowd he focussed on his kids “and to my kids, Brady, Reilly and Finley, thank you guys for the inspiration you give to me on a daily basis to be the best man and father that I can. I love you so much! Thank you to their mother Jenny for being there along the journey and for giving me three amazing children.”

He also made sure to thank his brothers Travis and Chris and his sister Sara who always gave unwavering support to their major league brother. As with his siblings he had nothing for praise for, according to him and Matt Damon, “my hometown brothers Adam, Evan, Glen, Shawnie, Chris, Jake and Adam….Thank you guys for always keeping me humble, keeping me true to myself. I still have all the same best friends as I did growing up.”

Dempster also thanked his wife Kelly for “pushing me to be the best man I can be, for being an incredible partner, on that 2013 season, the one that ended in a World Series Championship, and then we got to ride off into the sunset in a new chapter in our life. Every time I challenge myself with something new your support is unwavering, thank you for being there in the toughest time of my life and getting through with me, and for giving us the beautiful gift of our daughter Isabella.”

In closing his speech Dempster came back full circle and talked about hard work and discipline to do that work.  “As I look out over the crowd here on the stage, I can’t think of two people who did a better job of that than my parents, Walter and Marnie Dempster.  You guys sacrificed everything for us three boys.  My Mom wore the same pair jeans for an entire year so that we could have that new glove or new pair of cleats.  You started out as two young adults, my Mom as a teenager and my Dad in his early twenties.  Next thing you know you had three young boys in your twenties. I know it wasn’t easy, I know it was hard but you guys worked at it and you fought through the times, when you barely had money and you put food on the table, and you continued to work hard.  You battled through times when it felt like you surely would never make it but here you are 42 years later.  You’ve done an incredible job of raising three boys to be respectful, loving but most importantly, all hard working.  When people ask me all the time how does a kid from Gibsons make it to the major leagues, and I say hard work, and then they say who taught you that, and I say the answer is easy, “You guys did.”  

Considering he had the crowd laughing so much at times it was hard to discern whether the tears in the eyes of the audience were from laughing, or from the sincerity that he had shared with them.  In true fashion of his love for the game and people, I watched Dempster moments before he got on stage to be inducted. He noticed a young man in a wheelchair with an Orioles shirt on.  As he got closer Ryan bent over to say hi and before you knew it he had pulled off his World Series ring, put it on John’s finger and the two of them were posing for a picture.  That alone, not just the merits of statistics or World Series rings showed why Ryan Dempster should be donning the Canadian Hall of Fame jacket and honour.