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For Dempster and Gagne, Classic all about fun

MLB.com

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The second act of Ryan Dempster's baseball life began at Sequoia National Park last July 4. For Eric Gagne, once baseball's most dominant closer, it started in Ottawa two months and a day later.

The unexpected fallout of those two dates converged on Monday at the Engelbert Complex, normally a training facility for the Blue Jays, when Team Canada went through its first workout in preparation for this year's World Baseball Classic. Gagne, 41, who hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2008, was in uniform. Dempster, who turns 40 in May and made his last appearance four years ago, was as well.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The second act of Ryan Dempster's baseball life began at Sequoia National Park last July 4. For Eric Gagne, once baseball's most dominant closer, it started in Ottawa two months and a day later.

The unexpected fallout of those two dates converged on Monday at the Engelbert Complex, normally a training facility for the Blue Jays, when Team Canada went through its first workout in preparation for this year's World Baseball Classic. Gagne, 41, who hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2008, was in uniform. Dempster, who turns 40 in May and made his last appearance four years ago, was as well.

World Baseball Classic tickets, schedule

Neither has ever pitched in the Classic. Neither had thought much about the possibility at this point of their lives until something strange and wonderful happened to each, interconnected events despite being separated by nine weeks and an international boundary.

Dempster, who won 131 big league games, was vacationing with another former pitcher, Ted Lilly, his old bullpen catcher, Corey Miller, and their families. They were playing baseball with the kids, and Dempster suggested a bullpen session for old times' sake. It lasted about 60 pitches and, almost miraculously, he felt great the next day.

"After I stopped playing, my arm went kind of like a turtle into a shell. It didn't really want to let me throw a ball," Dempster said. "But it felt good, so I kept throwing."

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

Gagne came back as part of a promotion for the Ottawa Champions of the independent Canadian American Association. He pitched five innings against the Quebec Capitales, hit 93 on the radar gun, gave up one run on two hits and struck out six. Like Dempster, he was amazed at how good he felt afterward, especially since his career had been cut short by injuries.

"I felt really good," Gagne said. "I threw again two days later. So I knew my body was healed."

Gagne and Dempster both called Greg Hamilton, the head coach and director of national teams for Baseball Canada, to volunteer their services.

"I don't think regret's the right word, but always a little bit of wonderment," said Dempster, who will start Canada's opener on Thursday in Miami against the Dominican Republic. "I wonder what it would have been like? Did I miss out on that? It's not a comeback trail. It's just a comeback to represent my country and I'm excited to do that."

Gagne, on the other hand, has worked out for five teams and hopes to be signed after WBC 2017 is over.

"Just to represent your country means a lot," he said. "It's really special. I'm trying to just enjoy the ride. I'm 41 years old. So it's going to be a short one, but it's going to be fun."

The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

Worth noting

• Ernie Whitt, who has managed Team Canada in every Classic, acknowledges that this year's team is an underdog in Pool C, which also includes the U.S., Colombia and the defending champion Dominican Republic.

"If it's a long series, you say, 'Yeah, we really don't have a chance,'" Whitt said. "But if you play any game at any certain time, anything can happen. We've seen that in the past. We've knocked off some big guys before. We've been beaten by some little guys before. That's why you go out and play the game."

Team Canada is looking to advance for the first time in Classic history. The Canadians are a combined 3-5 in first-round play.

• Dempster believes the competition level is rising, because Grapefruit and Cactus League games are more intense.

"One thing that's really helped is that Spring Training games, it seems like they play at a higher level early on," he said. "The days of rushing to make your tee time don't seem as prevalent as they used to. Players are a lot more game-ready right away, so I think that plays to the level of competition we'll see in the tournament this year."

• Team Canada will play the Blue Jays on Tuesday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin and the Yankees on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa before flying to Miami to start tournament play.

• Designated hitter Justin Morneau and infielder Pete Orr have represented Canada in all four Classics.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com.

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