Dempster learned young to give back
Pitcher recognized as Clemente nominee for work with children
CHICAGO -- When he pitches, Ryan Dempster tries to make life difficult for hitters. On days between starts, Dempster does what he can to make life a little easier for others.
For all he does off the field, Dempster is the Cubs' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, presented by Chevrolet.
The desire to give back stems from his childhood. Dempster remembers when he was a young teenaged ballplayer in British Columbia and wanted to be part of a traveling squad.
"My parents didn't have a whole lot of money, and two different people in my hometown -- the owner of the lumber yard and one of the firemen -- gave me $500 bucks each," Dempster said. "For a kid, $1,000 made my whole summer. People were always doing stuff, whether it was [giving money] or their time or whatever.
"My dad always told me to try to leave the world in a little bit better place than how you found it," Dempster continued. "You can't always do everything you want to do, and you can't always make everybody happy, but I try to make a difference when I can."
The Clemente award recognizes the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team. It is named in honor of the former Pirates outfielder whose spirit and goodwill will always be remembered. Clemente died in a plane crash while attempting to transport relief supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua on Dec. 31, 1972.
Fans can participate in the selection process of the overall winner of the award now through Oct. 5. The fan ballot winner will be tallied as one vote among those cast by a special selection panel of baseball dignitaries and media members. The panel includes MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and Vera Clemente, widow of the Pirates' Hall of Fame right fielder whose spirit and goodwill always will be remembered. The winner will be announced during the World Series.
The Astros' Craig Biggio won the award last season. Two Cubs have won the Clemente award: Rick Sutcliffe did so in 1987, and Sammy Sosa in 1998.
Dempster has supported the Cubs' designated charities, which focus on youth sports, children with special needs and victims of domestic violence. He's also supported United Way of Metropolitan Chicago; visited patients at Children's Memorial Hospital and the University of Chicago Comer's Children's Hospital; participated in a fundraiser for the Sheil Park playlot renovation; and visited throughout the season with children through the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Illinois.
Since 2005, Dempster has sponsored an RBI team through the Union League Boys and Girls Club. RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) is a youth outreach program designed to increase participation and interest in baseball and academics with inner city youths.
The outgoing right-hander initiates most of the projects he's involved in. On Sept. 2, Dempster rang the bell to open the school year at Blaine Elementary School in Chicago, and welcomed students to their first day of class. He also participated in a fundraiser for the Organic School Program, organized by teammate Kerry Wood, and has made monetary donations to the Humane Society.
One of the more unique events Dempster hosts is a charitable ticket program targeted for disadvantaged youth. Dempster purchases 500 tickets and provides $10 in Cubs dollars to each of his guests so they can enjoy lunch at the ballpark. He also invites the young people to a game and meets with them during batting practice.
Part of this year's ticket program included a special Mother's Day event. The Cubs pitcher invited kids whose moms were serving in the military or women who had just returned from serving in the Middle East. He has hosted similar groups on Father's Day the past two years.
The Cubs were on the road this year for Father's Day, so Dempster switched the emphasis. After all, he said, "Mother's Day is just as important." The families invited include some whose mothers are serving overseas.
"You realize what they're going through -- well, you don't realize, but you try to understand what they're going through to have somebody leave them and never know if they're coming back," Dempster said. "On holidays and days like that, especially Mother's Day and Father's Day when it directly impacts that person and the family, you want to just give them something to smile about that day, and give them a reason to be happy and not be sad. That's kind of why we did it."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.