Dempster, Wells & what it means to be a big-leaguer


Dempster, Wells & what it means to be a big-leaguer

One morning in 2004, Randy Wells and his roommate pulled into a McDonalds drive-thru on their way to the ballpark to get some breakfast.

Wells was a 38th-round pick, a converted catcher pitching for Class-A Lansing. Wrigley Field might as well have been on another planet.

There was a car in front of us that was taking forever and we were running a little late, Wells recalled. Im like: What the hell is going on, man? The car pulled out, we got our Egg McMuffins or whatever and rolled to the field and followed the same car all the way.

It pulls into the lot and we get out of our car and as were walking in this guy rolls down the window and says, Hey, can you guys carry this? He drops a huge box of Egg McMuffins on us and says, Hey, can you take care of my dogs?

We all walk in the clubhouse and everybody looks at us like: What the hell?

And here comes (this guy) in his oh-so-funny (voice saying): Hey, dont feed my dogs, they might (bleep) in your locker. It was just the start of whats to come for Ryan Dempster over the next eight to nine years.

Wells still cracked up telling that story on Tuesday, sitting in the visiting dugout at U.S. Cellular Field, more than 200 miles from that drive-thru in Michigan.

Theres been so many ups and downs, and hes heard this question so many times before, that Wells laughed when asked what Wednesday nights start means against the White Sox: You guys dont have any tape in the archives?

Yes, Wells would like to start. And, of course, he has something to prove to this front office, which stashed him at Triple-A Iowa out of spring training.

But this isnt how Wells envisioned leaving the bullpen and getting his shot: Dempster went on the disabled list on Monday with a tight right lat muscle. And there is the sense that the end is near, once Dempster (2.11 ERA) shows the market hes healthy before the July 31 trade deadline.

So Wells thought back to the beginning, before Dempster was a face of the franchise, to when this was just another guy recovering from Tommy John surgery.

It was funny, too, because Mark Prior had just rehabbed (there), Wells said. They made a huge deal out of it. The paper had full-size Prior pictures and they were hanging up everywhere.

And then a week later, Demp rolls in. They dont have anything, so he made his own posters, drew some stick figures that said: Ryan Dempster will pitch at Oldsmobile Park tonight.

It gets lost in the shuffle now, but Wells won 12 games and posted a 3.05 ERA as a rookie in 2009. He accounted for 32 starts and almost 200 innings the next year. After a forearm strain wiped out almost two months last season, he went 6-3 with a 4.04 ERA in 14 second-half starts.

Remember what Dempster meant to Wells the next time you hear someone wondering why this veteran or that veteran is still around, demanding that Theo Epstein clean house and go all-in with the youth movement.

I dont think words could describe it, Wells said. As a young player who never even sniffed or thought about sniffing the major leagues the leadership that he (radiated was) immeasurable.

It was just how to be professional and go about your business. (We) never really had a talk about pitching in the sense of like: Hey, this is what you got to do. Because everybodys (mechanics are) different. His tutelage to me has always been mental approach: Hey, this is how you prepare. This is how you stay in the game a long time. This is how you act as a professional baseball player.

When Ryan comes into the clubhouse, the mood rises. And all these trade talks or whatever, you dont even want to think about it because its kind of like when (Ted) Lilly left and (Derrek) Lee left. Its not so much the production or what you get out of them in the lineup. Its what you get when you show up to the field every day. Its priceless.

Thats what a contender could get for the stretch run, a 35-year-old pitcher who will infuse the clubhouse with energy, set an example and wont be afraid of the big stage.

Even if he felt like the media blew it out of proportion last season, Wells credited his strong second half, in part, to a kick in the butt from Dempster that put him in the right frame of mind.

So remember this the next time someone quotes you VORP or WAR and lays out the rebuilding plan. Dont forget that the Cubs are going to need leaders in 2013 to bridge them to where they want to go in the future.

I can honestly say I dont know where my career would be without a guy like Ryan Dempster, Wells said. Its just stuff that the fans dont get to see. Fans only see what happens on the field. They only see production and results and the stuff that Ryan brings off the field is immeasurable.

Any team would be lucky to have him. (But) I definitely dont want to see him go and I think I speak for everyone else in there.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

The Bulls square off against the Sixers tonight on NBC Sports Chicago, with coverage beginning at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live. Here are three things to watch as the Bulls begin the stretch run of their regular season.

1. The new rotation: Most of the Bulls’ rotation looks the same, but the addition of David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne will have a different feel. The Bulls clearly want to get a look at these guys before the end of the regular season, meaning they’re not just going to get sporadic minutes. They’ll have to play through their mistakes, play out-matched at times and be put in uncomfortable situations. But the Bulls need to see what they have, especially in Payne, who has missed the entire season to this point with a broken foot.

2. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons: They’re quite the 1-2 punch and have the Sixers looking at their first playoff appearance since Derrick Rose hadn’t yet torn an ACL. Yeah, that’s a long time. Embiid just finished his first All-Star appearance (starting in his second year) and Simmons is the front runner for Rookie of the Year. The Bulls will have their hands full with these two. Luckily…

3. Kris Dunn is back: The Bulls wanted to get Dunn some run before heading to All-Star Weekend to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, and he looked healthy in that thumping against the Raptors last week. The good news is John Paxson says Dunn won’t be on a minutes limit, which means he’s healthy. That, of course, is more important than how he’s playing. It’ll be fun to see him, LaVine and Markkanen play together down the stretch. Their numbers together aren’t great, but the Bulls are 2-2 with all three in the lineup, and tanking or not…it’s more fun to watch when those three are rolling. 

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'


Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."