Ryan Dempster always had it in the back of his mind that he would run a marathon someday. He was a distance runner in high school and a believer in running to build endurance during the 16 seasons he pitched in the majors.
Then it occurred to him six months ago that the 2023 Boston Marathon was the right time and place to fulfill that goal.
“It seemed fitting to do it 10 years after I played for the Red Sox,” he said. “It was perfect.”
Dempster, now 45, pitched for the Sox on April 15, 2013, holding the Tampa Bay Rays to one run over seven innings. It was only a short time later, 41 minutes, when two bombs went off close to the Marathon finish line.
“I only played one season in Boston but it feels like 10 with everything that happened that season,” Dempster said. “I’ll never forget that day.”
The bombs killed three and maimed dozens. The days that followed brought more tragedy as an MIT police officer was slain before one terrorist was killed in a shootout with police and the other captured that Friday in Watertown.
The Red Sox opened a series in Cleveland the day after the bombings and swept three games. When they returned to Fenway Park on Saturday, April 20, David Ortiz capped an emotional pregame ceremony with his now famed “This is our [expletive] city” speech.
Daniel Nava then belted a go-ahead, three-run homer with two outs in the eighth inning to beat Kansas City.
“When Nava hit that home run, it felt like we couldn’t lose the way the city was rallying after everything that happened,” Dempster said.
Over time, as the Red Sox put together an unexpectedly successful season, Fenway Park became the focal point for a wounded city as victims and first-responders were often recognized and celebrated before games. That continued through the summer and into the postseason when the Red Sox won the World Series.
“It was triumph over tragedy,” Dempster said. “The way the city allowed us to have a small role in people recovering changed my perspective about baseball. That’s why I wanted to come back and run the Marathon. Of course I had to do it in Boston.”
Dempster is running to raise funds for the Lingzi Foundation, which honors the memory of Lingzi Lu, one of the first victims.
“I wanted to run for charity and somebody suggested the Lingzi Foundation,” Dempster said. “I did some research and it was a great fit.”
Another retired Red Sox player, Brock Holt, is running the Marathon with his wife, Lakyn, for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Dempster has been training for six months and completed a half-marathon in 1 hour 50 minutes.
“Everybody wants to give you advice,” he said. “I have a neighbor who’s a good friend and he was helpful. But you just have to get out there and do it. I’ve always wanted to try something to push myself beyond what I’ve done before.”
Former major league outfielder Eric Byrnes has been a good resource. He is now a triathlete and has completed a number of ultramarathons, including a 905-mile run from Chicago to New York.
“I’m taking a trip to Oregon to train on some hills,” Dempster said. “I live in Chicago and we don’t have any hills. I want to keep the same pace I had in the half-marathon I did.
“I’m running for Lingzi and the great people from the foundation. I have a lot of motivation.”
Dempster stepped away from baseball during spring training in 2014, leaving $13.25 million on the table. He had a neck injury at the time and was going through a divorce.
“That we won that World Series made it easier,” he said. “It played a big role in my decision to retire. The most important thing was my children.”
Dempster has since fashioned a second career in baseball. He’s been a special assistant to the president and general manager of the Cubs since December 2014.
“Theo [Epstein] hired me and said. ‘Just be you.’ I can do that,” Dempster said.
Dempster also joined MLB Network as a studio analyst in ‘14 and in 2020 was hired by Marquee Sports in Chicago as a studio and game analyst.
He also hosts a show called “Off The Mound” that’s a mix of interviews, music, and comedy. His guests have included a number of notable players, along with Eddie Vedder.
Dempster has done live versions of “Off The Mound” as part of the baseball-themed Innings Festival concerts in Arizona and Florida that coincide with spring training.
Dempster’s latest job is joining Kevin Millar and Siera Santos as one of the hosts of “Intentional Talk” on MLB Network. His first show will be March 31.
“I’ve enjoyed a lot of the things I’ve been doing,” Dempster said. “Whether it’s baseball, music, comedy, charity, I like being able to find ways to give back to people.”
Dempster is bringing “Off The Mound” to City Winery in Boston on April 15 as part of a Hot Stove Cool Music event to benefit Foundation To Be Named Later. Bronson Arroyo and Jake Peavy are among those expected to attend. Go to ftbnl.org for tickets and information.
Dalbec can still help the Red Sox
Bobby Dalbec had an .819 OPS, 33 home runs, and 94 RBIs over 156 games from 2020-21. Overlooking him as a potential contributor this season based only on his terrible 2022 season would be a mistake.
Dalbec has looked comfortable at third base, and even shortstop, during spring training. He’s more fluid on the left side than he is at first base and his strong arm is a plus at those positions. The plan is to get him some time to second base, too. Dalbec also had a 1.003 OPS through 12 games. His power still plays.
The problem is finding a spot for him on the Red Sox roster. Yu Chang has far more experience at second base and shortstop and Justin Turner can fill in at third base when needed. The Sox also will presumably get infielder Adalberto Mondesi on the roster at some point in late April once he’s finished with the rehab work on his left knee.
Dalbec was unproductive as a bench player last season, but that was more a product of his attitude toward that role than his ability. He has since adopted a posture of being willing to do whatever he can to help the team.
Dalbec, 27, seems likely to open the season in Triple A despite how well he has played in Florida. But don’t count him out as being helpful this season.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ Signing standout young players to long-term contracts is important for an organization. But isn’t it too early to suggest that for Triston Casas?
The first baseman has played only 27 major league games and all were for a team well out of contention last season. Casas may well be a building block, but there’s not yet enough evidence to justify a contract. Check back in June.
▪ Corey Kluber was smiling when he walked outside the clubhouse and saw his wife and kids after pitching five strong innings against the Rays on Wednesday, so there is evidence he’s not a pitching cyborg.
After 12 seasons in the majors and 251 starts, it takes a lot to get Kluber excited. He barely grinned when discussing being named the Sox’ Opening Day starter.
Chris Sale, who never hides his emotions, admires Kluber for having that ability.
“He’s definitely quiet,” Sale said. “He’s obviously more reserved — even his pitching style and I respect that a lot.
“When you can look at somebody on a baseball field and not know whether their house is on fire or everything is pristine, that’s a very admirable thing. Especially in this day and age when everything’s a production. So, yeah, I respect that.
“The way he operates, the way he moves around. I know ‘leader by example’ gets thrown around a lot. But if you just followed him to a T on a daily basis, you’d be in a really good spot.”
▪ With pitchers now limited to throwing over to first base twice before being called for a balk (unless they pick off the runner), catchers are likely to pick up some of the responsibility for holding runners on base.
The snap throw to first base behind the runner is expected to become commonplace. Pitchouts are likely to be used more frequently, too.
“Awareness is going to help, the awareness of the pitcher when he has the ball in his hand the most,” Red Sox catching coach Jason Varitek said. “It will be a collaborative effort and who’s making that call. There will be times you’ll have to trust each other’s instincts.”
Bench coach Ramón Vázquez has the responsibility for calling pickoffs for the Red Sox. That communication will have to be fast with the pitch timer ticking, which is something the Sox have worked on.
▪ Baseball works in mysterious ways sometimes.
Red Sox minor league lefthander Rio Gomez was selected to pitch for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic. He was eligible because his mother, Sandi, was born in Bogota.
Colombia was assigned to Pool C in Phoenix, where Gomez grew up and often attended games at Chase Field with his father, Pedro, a longtime baseball writer and television reporter who died in 2021.
With his mom in the stands, Gomez was called on to pitch Tuesday against Canada and retired four of the five hitters he faced, two by strikeout. Major leaguers Bo Naylor and Abraham Toro grounded out facing Gomez.
Not bad for a pitcher who finished last season in Double A. Gomez pointed at the press box when he came off the field as a tribute to his father.
The Red Sox and manager Alex Cora did their part, getting Gomez into three Grapefruit League games before he left for the WBC.
Mets hit hard by the WBC
How long before Steve Cohen buys the World Baseball Classic and shuts it down?
We joke, but the Mets owner can’t be too happy about the tournament. His team lost All-Star closer Edwin Díaz for the season when he tore the patellar tendon in his right knee while celebrating a save against the Dominican Republic.
José Quintana, who was signed in December to bolster the rotation, had a stress fracture in his ribs while preparing to pitch for Colombia and will miss at least the first three months.
Lefthanded reliever Brooks Raley strained a hamstring working out with Team USA and could open the season on the injured list.
Mets general manager Billy Eppler was able to keep outfielder Starling Marte off the Dominican Republic roster because of a preexisting injury. But he had no choice with the others.
“In general, we are not given too many opportunities to stand in the way when a player goes. There are certain criteria that has to be met for a player to not go,” Eppler said. “When we’re given that runway, we’ve taken it. We took it with Marte.”
Angry as Mets fans are, Cohen surely understands Díaz’s knee injury could have happened covering first base in a Grapefruit League game. He also attended the WBC quarterfinals in Japan and knows how important the tournament is to baseball worldwide.
That doesn’t help the Mets, who are a World Series-caliber team. But they have the resources to overcome the loss of Díaz. David Robertson has 157 career saves and Adam Ottavino worked as a closer for the Red Sox in 2021.
If the Mets can rework their bullpen until June, the trade market will open and Eppler can get a new closer, if needed. One possibility could be Díaz’s brother, Alexis, a reliever with the Reds.
Martín Pérez was 7-8 with a 4.77 ERA in 22 starts for the 2021 Red Sox before he was demoted to the bullpen. He didn’t pitch much better in relief and became a free agent when the season ended. That the Sox would not bring him back was evident. Pérez took a $4 million deal with the Rangers for 2022, made the All-Star team for the first time, then accepted a one-year, $19.65 million qualifying offer from Texas. Pérez then opened the WBC by allowing one run over 3⅓ innings against the Dominican Republic. What changed? Pérez cut way down on using a four-seam fastball, emphasized his sinker, and improved the action on his changeup and cutter. He’s also more comfortable being back with Texas, where he played from 2012-18. “It’s hard to explain,” Pérez said. “But this is where I can do my best.” . . . The WBC game between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic drew 36,025 fans at loanDepot Park in Miami on Wednesday. The largest crowd the Marlins drew last season was 31,184. That was their only game with more than 30,000. Miami last drew 36,000 for its home opener in 2017 . . . What a story this is. Duque Hebbert, an undersized 21-year-old free agent righthander, made Nicaragua’s roster for the World Baseball Classic. He came into a game against the Dominican Republic this past week and struck out Juan Soto and Julio Rodríguez. Manny Machado doubled, but Hebbert came back and struck out Rafael Devers. Tigers scout Luis Molina was at the game, chased down Hebbert, and offered him a contract. Hebbert took the deal and is now in Detroit’s camp . . . It looks like Mike Trout has had more fun with Team USA this month than he’d had in the last five years playing for the Angels. It’s a crime the greatest player of his generation hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2014 despite a 1.035 OPS and an average of 7.6 bWAR in the seven full seasons since. Trout also has formed a close bond with Mookie Betts during the WBC . . . Joe Pepitone, who died Monday, was a pop-culture icon beyond having played eight seasons for the Yankees in the 1960s and making the All-Star team three times. His name popped up in three episodes of “Seinfeld” and once on both “The West Wing” and “The Sopranos.” . . . Happy birthday to David Ross, who is 46. The Cubs manager played 94 games in two stints with the Red Sox. The first was a brief stay in 2008, the second lasted over the course of the 2013-14 seasons. Ross caught the final out of the World Series in 2013 when Koji Uehara struck out Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals. He also was behind the plate for the Cubs during Game 7 in 2016 when they won their historic championship.