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.”
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.
Another retired Red Sox player, Brock Holt, is running the Marathon with his wife, Lakyn, for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.