Ryan Dempster won't play for Canada in World Baseball Classic
Red Sox pitcher says he is pulling for Canada
The locker room at JetBlue park in Fort Myers, Florida was more colourful than normal, with national flags draped over the lockers of players who left the Boston Red Sox's spring training facility to play in the World Baseball Classic.
But even though Boston signed one of Canada's top arms this off-season, the Maple Leaf was nowhere to be found.
With a brand new two-year, $26-million US contract, Ryan Dempster chose to stay with his new team this spring rather than make the trek to Arizona to join his countrymen on the international baseball stage.
"I'm going to be pulling for those guys [on Canada's national team] and hoping they do well, but this is what my situation is now," Dempster said Sunday after pitching three scoreless innings of one-hit ball against the New York Yankees.
"[Playing in the WBC] probably isn't the best thing for me to be doing physically while I'm trying to get ready for the season."
So far, his preparation has gone well. Dempster made his spring training debut against the Cardinals last week, pitching two perfect innings and striking out two in the Red Sox's 15-4 loss.
And the Gibsons, B.C. native said he's fitting in with his new teammates.
"I know a lot of the guys from playing against them so there's always that bond," he said. "It's been an easier transition than I anticipated. I'm having fun."
He said getting used to new manager John Farrell has also been easy.
Farrell ruffled some feathers in Toronto when he left his post as Blue Jays manager to pursue his "dream job" with Boston, the team with which he spent three years as pitching coach from 2007-2010.
Dempster said the criticism against him is unwarranted.
"He's a great man, not just a good baseball man but a good person in general," Dempster said. "He's a tremendous manager from what I've experienced so far already.
"I'm sure that [criticism] comes with the territory and I understand that, but we're excited to have him here and I'm excited to go out there and play for him."
Along with new teammates and a new manager, Dempster also has a new division to get used to.
Dempster, who was traded from the Cubs to the Rangers halfway through the 2012 season, did not fare too well in his first stint in the American League. He gave up 10 home runs in 12 games and inflated his ERA to 5.09, despite leaving Texas with a 7-3 record.
Now he's in the AL East, home potent sluggers such as Jose Bautista and Robinson Cano. Dempster said he isn't worried about that.
"I'm no more nervous than I would be facing anybody else," he said of the East's stiff competition.
While Dempster is excited for the new season, he said his decision to turn down Canada and the WBC was not an easy one.
Sometimes it simply comes down to timing, just as it did four years ago when Dempster backed out of the 2009 WBC after signing a four-year deal with the Cubs following a career-high 17-win campaign.
Dempster said he's grateful to have the backing of Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada's director of national teams.
"I talked with Greg because I wanted to express my feelings about everything and he was very supportive," Dempster said. "He's a tremendous man and he's made me feel at ease with my decision."
With 15 years of major league service under his belt, it's hard to think that Dempster has never represented Canada in an international tournament. And at 35 years of age, he may not get another invite.
If Dempster gets his way, however, that won't be the case.
"I want to keep playing for a while longer," he said with a smile. "We'll just have to see what happens."