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.

Blackhawks select Adam Boqvist with the No. 8 overall pick

Blackhawks select Adam Boqvist with the No. 8 overall pick

DALLAS — For the first time since drafting Patrick Kane first overall in 2007, the Blackhawks owned a top-10 pick in the NHL Draft. There was speculation that Stan Bowman might get aggressive and trade the No. 8 selection for immediate help if a deal made sense.

Instead, the draft couldn't have unfolded more favorably for the Blackhawks, who elected to keep the pick and drafted defenseman Adam Boqvist.

“You can never have enough D," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said on the NBCSN broadcast. "He moves the puck, he’s very active in the play, very dynamic in a lot of ways. He can help our power play down the road, I am looking forward to seeing how he does in the summer and going into camp."

"There’s opportunity here on the back end with our team, and it’s going to be competitive along the way, but certainly you got a guy that can move the puck and get involved offensively, those guys are hard to find.”

Boqvist is a 5-foot-11, 168-pound right-handed shot blue-liner who's drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson, given his offensive ability.

"I know they have lots of Swedish defensemen," Boqvist said of the Blackhawks. "They played pretty well as a team and like to have the puck, you know, [Patrick] Kane. Yeah, I like it."

He compiled 24 points (14 goals, 10 assists) in 25 games for the Brynas J20 squad in the SuperElit league, and added three goals and two assists in three playoff games. But his production dropped off when he moved up to the Swedish Hockey League, where he registered only one assist in 15 games.

As we mentioned in our NHL Draft Profile this week, there are a few concerns about Boqvist.

He's only 17 years old and his defensive work needs improvement, meaning the Blackhawks must be patient with his development. He's also sustained a couple head injuries over the course of his young career, which adds some risk to the equation.

But there's clearly major upside if you're being compared to Karlsson.

"I think I need to improve my defensive play and need to be bigger and stronger," Boqvist said. "Of course, my offense can be better, too, so almost everything."

Boqvist joins Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell as the team's top three defensive prospects, all of whom have right-handed shots.

Stan Bowman: Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford 'progressing like he normally would'

Stan Bowman: Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford 'progressing like he normally would'

Stan Bowman likes where Corey Crawford is at this state of the offseason, he said Friday prior to the NHL Draft.

Speaking with NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle, Bowman noted that while Crawford hasn't begun doing any on-ice work, that isn't unusual for players this early.

"We’ve been in contact with Corey and I think he’s been progressing like he normally would," Bowman said. "Most guys don’t do a lot of on-ice work the first couple of months of the offseason.

"Typically they get back on the ice sometime in July, some guys don’t skate until August. I think that’s sort of the plan for Corey as we go along here. I would say he’s right on the normal schedule for the offseason and we’ll just see how that goes."

That's good news for the Blackhawks, who sorely missed Crawford a year ago. The three-time Stanley Cup champion appeared in just 28 games, earning a 16-9-2 record and a 2.27 GAA.