MIAMI -- It's a good thing for Ryan Dempster that he has both perspective and a sense of humor. His comeback to serve as Canada's No. 1 starter in the World Baseball Classic on Thursday at Marlins Park didn't exactly go the way he drew it up. But there were
MIAMI -- It's a good thing for Ryan Dempster that he has both perspective and a sense of humor. His comeback to serve as Canada's No. 1 starter in the World Baseball Classic on Thursday at Marlins Park didn't exactly go the way he drew it up. But there were silver linings.
For sure, Dempster is certain to get material for his stints as a broadcaster with MLB Network or the comedy routines he does at Cubs Convention. And he might get another chance to work in WBC 2017, as he threw 49 pitches.
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Dempster will be eligible to pitch against Colombia on Saturday (noon ET) or the United States on Sunday (7 p.m. ET) if manager Ernie Whitt chooses to use him, and he hopes to be ready to do whatever his team needs. Both of those games can be seen on MLB.TV and MLB Network.
"If Ernie needs me, I'll be ready to go,'' Dempster said after the Dominican Republic's 9-2 victory in Pool C. "I don't expect anything. I've been thrilled with the opportunity so far. I'll be prepared, ready to go, whether it's to get a hitter out or pitch two [innings], whatever it is.''
No matter what happens from here, Dempster will leave Miami with a sense of satisfaction that he was able to pitch for his national team more than three years after he retired. That's an adventure few will ever have. He said he has loved the challenge, and the chance to stare down fear.
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"The courage to do it, to show my kids, you put your mind to something, you can do it,'' said Dempster, a 132-game winner who turns 40 in May. "For anybody. Don't fear what the results might be or the process. Enjoy it. I had an absolute blast getting ready for this.''
Dempster, whose last MLB appearance was finishing off Boston's victory in Game 1 of the 2013 World Series, could have picked an easier opponent to face in his comeback. But he wanted to be back on the big stage, and in the Classic there's no stage bigger than facing the powerful team from the Dominican Republic.
It was a testament to Canada's lack of depth that Dempster drew the opener, with even Whitt crossing his fingers that it would come out OK.
Dempster said the chance to work the opener was exactly what he had in mind when he began to explore the possibility of coming out of the retirement for the event.
"I was excited when Greg [Hamilton, who is in charge of Canada's national teams] and Ernie talked about it, said it could bode well with the experience I have,'' he said. "Then I saw the [Dominican] lineup and I was like, 'Maybe not them.' All kidding aside, it was a tremendous honor to do that.''
Dempster was on the ropes throughout a two-inning outing in which he allowed four runs on seven hits. The loudest of them was a three-run homer by Welington Castillo, who was his teammate on the 2012 Cubs.
Leadoff man Jose Reyes served immediate notice of the task ahead, fouling off three two-strike pitches before ripping a double down the right-field line. Dempster escaped the first inning scoreless, even striking out Jose Bautista when the Blue Jays slugger couldn't check his swing on a low changeup, but then then gave up six hits and four runs in the second inning.
Dempster worked slowly and was breathing heavily as he was victimized by the long line of daunting Dominican hitters: Nelson Cruz (double), Gregory Polanco (single), Castillo (opposite-field homer), Reyes (single), Robinson Cano (single) and Bautista (single).
"I kept waiting for the pitcher to hit,'' Dempster said. "He never hit, and that got really tough. The challenge is to try and win each pitch. That''s all you can do. You can't look at the lineup as a whole. You're just trying to win this pitch here, and after that you worry about winning the next pitch.''
Dempster said it would have been "awesome'' to work five scoreless innings, but pitchers never really control their results. His velocity was almost the same as it was in the second half of his career, after he'd undergone Tommy John surgery. Dempster's fastball peaked at 91 mph and he used it to set up changes.
Dempster said he was barely hitting 80 mph when he started training for this possibility last year. His velocity slowly came back, and at times he felt he was throwing too hard on Thursday.
"I'd rather some of the 90s were 88 and better located,'' Dempster said.
Maybe next time?
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, 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.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com and has covered Major League Baseball since 1984.