Canadian trio thrilled to be MLB all-stars
Ryan Dempster can envision the ultimate Canadian convergence in Tuesday's MLB all-star game — him on the mound, Russell Martin behind the plate and Justin Morneau in the batter's box.
"I'd just dot him right in the back with a fastball and see if he's got enough guts to come out to the mound," the noted jokester from Gibsons, B.C., said with a smirk.
"That would be awesome. I want to jersey him."
While that scenario is unlikely to play out, the trio do represent a record dose of Canadian content at the all-star game.
Several Midsummer Classics have featured two Canadians, most recently last season when both Martin and Morneau went, and their national pride was obvious during Monday's media day in New York.
"The Canadians, we're taking over," said Martin, the outstanding Los Angeles Dodgers catcher from Chelsea, Que.
"You better watch out."
Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Jason Bay could have made it four Canadians, as the native of Trail, B.C., is also enjoying a strong season.
But the two-time all-star was hurt by the numbers game, leaving the others to represent the maple leaf at Yankee Stadium.
"When the rosters got announced, I texted Russ and Demps and told them it was pretty exciting," said Morneau, the Minnesota Twins first baseman from New Westminster, B.C.
"I didn't know how many guys had made it before, and Bay could have made it another guy. [The record] is pretty cool, that's something that definitely we're proud of."
Morneau, Martin and Dempster, the Chicago Cubs right-hander, were each named to their second all-star game, although it means different things to all three.
Morneau and Martin are still young stars on the rise and their selection only affirms their status among the game's elite.
Dempster excels as closer
For Dempster, it's his first time back since he was a member of the Florida Marlins in 2000 and his return comes after his career path has wound through several detours.
Dempster's numbers in Florida took a dip after that all-star season and he was traded to Cincinnati in 2002.
He blew out his elbow the next year, the Reds cut ties with him after the season, and he eventually signed with the Cubs with the aim of becoming a closer.
He excelled in that role, saving 87 games from 2004-07 before converting back to a starter this season.
Good idea because he's 10-4 with a 3.25 earned-run average in 20 outings.
"Going through injury, having Tommy John [surgery] and coming back from that, closing then back starting, and just going through everything this year, it's been a fun journey," he said. "Hopefully, now I can keep it going and just be as consistent as possible."
Dempster said he doesn't spend too much time thinking about what might have been, the lost time, or take any extra satisfaction from making it back to the NL squad.
He plans to make the most of every moment, however, knowing such opportunities can be fleeting.
"When I went that year , I thought I'd go the next year and the next year. That's how you feel, you feel confident in yourself and your ability.
"It didn't work out that way," he said. You can't control injuries, all you can control is rehab and trying to come back as strong as possible.
"I'm just glad to get back to where I was before. Hopefully, a bit better."
Morneau among best thumpers
Morneau is having a lot more fun this time around.
Last year, earning a spot on the AL all-star team was a way to silence the many critics of his selection as the league's most valuable player in 2006.
Posting numbers good enough to get to San Francisco was his way of showing his big year was no fluke.
This year's all-star appearance just further legitimizes his place among baseball's best thumpers and the consistency of his production is what he's most satisfied with.
"You want to be playing well enough at the break to be named an all-star, you want to be there with the best players in the game," said Morneau, batting .323 with 14 home runs and 68 runs batted in.
"Sitting in a room with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, David Ortiz, guys that everybody knows, is an honour. It's pretty cool to think of."
Martin keen to improve
The same goes for Martin, who knows not to take the experience for granted.
The catching field in the NL is as deep as ever, with Cubs rookie Geovany Soto supplanting him as the starter.
Atlanta's Brian McCann is also on the team, while the Molina brothers, Bengie in San Francisco and Yadier in St. Louis, have strong numbers, too.
"Consistent's good, but I've always liked to improve," said Martin, batting .294 with 10 home runs, 45 runs batted in and 10 stolen bases.
"There's always certain things you can get better at. A lot of guys here are probably perfectionists, they want to keep getting better and that's a reason why you're good, you don't really accept staying the same [and] that's my main thing."
What does he want to improve on?
"Everything," he said. "Calling a game, defence, blocking, learning how to get a better step, an extra jump, I want to steal bases.
"There's so much about the game of baseball that you're never going to stop learning. I just want to make sure I'm not letting anything go by."
That's a quality Morneau and Dempster also share and why this isn't likely to be the last time the all-star game has three Canadians in it. But until it happens again, they all planned to make the most of it.
"It's really special," said Dempster. "There aren't a lot of us in the big leagues from Canada and to have three of us go to the all-star game is good for the young guys of Canada that grow up playing baseball, that there's not only a chance to make it to pro ball, but also to make it to the big leagues and to be an all-star.
"We'll be out there not only representing our teams but also Canada, so it will be a big moment for all of us."