Charismatic Dempster means much to Cubs
CHICAGO -- Center fielder Tony Campana had just joined the Cubs early last season when veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster had a challenge.
"He bet me he would hit a triple before I did," Campana said.
"Five hundred dollars," Campana said.
No contest, right? Campana had averaged 56 stolen bases a year during his last three Minor League seasons. He'd had eight triples in that time.
As for Dempster, he'd had one triple in just over 500 Major League at-bats, and that was back in 2002, when he was a young pup of 25.
"I thought it was the easiest bet I ever made," Campana said. "I was trying to get him to jack it up."
Easy money isn't as easy as it used to be. Campana watched from the on-deck circle on Friday afternoon as the 35-year-old Dempster lumbered around the bases with his second career triple in the second inning of a 3-0 Cubs victory over the Red Sox at Wrigley Field.
OK, so maybe right fielder Adrian Gonzalez did misplay the ball. In the box score, it's a triple, fair and square, and it's one more than Campana has.
"He got me," Campana said.
Dempster was philosophical.
"I try to spread my triples out every 10 years," he said. "I was excited to finally get to utilize my wheels."
When it was suggested that Campana needed to get his money back with, say, a stolen-base challenge, the outfielder smiled.
"He'd probably go out and steal four in a game," Campana said.
Dempster also had a single to raise his career batting average all the way up to .100, and when you're hot, you're hot.
The right-hander was pretty good on the mound, too, tossing seven strong innings to win his third consecutive start and extend his scoreless-innings streak to 22.
All of this comes at a time when Dempster knows his nine-year run with the Cubs is most likely coming to a close. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein spoke to Dempster this week about the possibility of agreeing to a trade.
Dempster has the right to veto a deal, but he's apparently at least willing to consider being traded. Epstein has undertaken a full-blown reconstruction of the franchise, and Dempster could be attractive enough to fetch a prospect or two from a contending team. He might be the difference between the Orioles making and missing the playoffs.
The Dodgers, Rangers and other teams could probably use him, too. If it happens, he'll leave plenty of friends behind. He's admired for everything from his sense of humor to his work ethic to his leadership.
"He's one of the most professional, hard-working people you're ever going to be around," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "When he steps on the mound, it's 'Game on' with him. There are no trade rumors or, 'Where am I going to go?'"
If Dempster was unnerved about the possibility of pitching elsewhere, he didn't show it.
"I'm not naive," he said. "I'm not oblivious to what's going on. ... If I focused on that and worried about that, I wouldn't be doing a very good job as a teammate to those guys in there, and I wouldn't be doing a very good job to myself if I wasn't focusing on what I need to do. Whatever happens ends up happening. Right now, I'm here and I love being here, and everybody knows that. I love the city of Chicago and playing for the Cubs."
Dempster changed speeds, commanded the strike zone and had the Red Sox off balance from beginning to end.
"He was throwing everything -- his changeup, his cutter, his fastball," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "He did a good job.''
As Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger, 26, said, "He'll throw at curve at 84 [mph] one time, and maybe 80 [mph] the next time. He had everything working. Up, down. In, out."
Clevenger is another of the young players who has come to admire Dempster for things that have nothing to do with pitching.
"He's a great guy," Clevenger said. "He's [irreplaceable]. He brings a lot of energy to the clubhouse. He brings a lot of experience. As a rookie, he has helped me along the way, trying to learn hitters and things like that."
Dempster said he hadn't wondered if this might have been his last start for the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Afterward, though, he emphasized that his nine seasons with the Cubs have been a terrific ride.
"I've always said I want to play the rest of my career here, and I love being a Chicago Cub and love being in the city," Dempster said. "I've had a chance to play in a lot of different cities, and this is the best place to play. I don't know what tomorrow holds, but right now, I'm enjoying the fact we won today's game and get to enjoy that."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.