Chicago Sun-Times

THE EN­TER­TAINER

Gig with Mar­quee has al­lowed Demp­ster to tap deeper into his in­ner show­man

- JEFF AGREST ja­grest@sun­times.com | @jef­freya22 Sports · Humor · Gibsons · British Columbia · Johnny Carson · Chicago Cubs · Wrigley Field · Texas Rangers · Miami Marlins · Boston Red Sox · Boston · Mike Trout · Ken Griffey, Jr. · Ryan Dempster · Burt Reynolds · Mike Lowell

Like any kid grow­ing up, Ryan Demp­ster had an idol.

You’d fig­ure an as­pir­ing base­ball player would wor­ship ma­jor-lea­guers. But that wasn’t the case for young Demp­ster. Grow­ing up in Gib­sons, Bri­tish Columbia, his ado­ra­tion went to Johnny Car­son.

He would stay up late to watch “The Tonight Show.” Just how late was he al­lowed to stay up?

“I don’t want to rat out my dad,” said Demp­ster, now 43. “I was pretty young.”

He liked fall­ing asleep happy af­ter hear­ing a joke or an amus­ing story or watch­ing an en­ter­tain­ing skit. He even had his fa­vorite guests.

“I was al­ways hop­ing that it would be Burt Reynolds again,” he said, “be­cause ev­ery time he went on, it was hi­lar­i­ous.”

Demp­ster has car­ried that happy feel­ing with him ever since, through a 16-year ma­jor-league ca­reer that in­cluded nine sea­sons (2004-12) with the Cubs to a sec­ond ca­reer as a broad­caster on the Cubs’ Mar­quee Sports Net­work, where he has been able to com­bine two of his pas­sions: talk­ing base­ball and en­ter­tain­ing peo­ple.

He ini­tially was go­ing to be part of a ro­ta­tion of ad­di­tional game an­a­lysts, but Cubs fans have seen much more of him than ex­pected. Demp­ster has filled in for Jim

De­shaies, who was out with a knee in­jury, and has been called upon more be­cause he lives near Wrigley Field.

“Many of our [per­son­nel] de­ci­sions are now based, ob­vi­ously, on COVID-re­lated fac­tors,” Mar­quee gen­eral man­ager Mike McCarthy said. “Ryan is lo­cal and can make more ap­pear­ances than any­one need­ing to travel, and he has made more ap­pear­ances than oth­ers in part for that rea­son.

“That said, Ryan is a bud­ding star, and Mar­quee and its view­ers have en­joyed his work this sea­son and ex­pect much more from Ryan in the com­ing sea­sons.”

Demp­ster isn’t a fin­ished prod­uct in the booth, but his pitch­ing demon­stra­tions are in­sight­ful, and like booth­mates

Len Kasper and De­shaies, he’s an easy, com­fort­able lis­ten. He tries to bring more to his anal­y­sis than the knowl­edge he has gleaned since the Rangers drafted him in the third round in 1995.

“I’m try­ing to bring the ac­tual emo­tion of what it’s like to be a big-league ballplayer,” he said. “Let’s un­der­stand that there are hu­mans out there, and there’s a guy 60 feet, 6 inches away, and he’s also re­quired to win. I can re­late to that.” He’s also try­ing to bring hu­mor. “Any­body who knows me knows I love the stage,” he said. “I like en­ter­tain­ing. I want peo­ple to have a good time.”

He took that to an­other level in June 2001, the night be­fore a start for the Mar­lins against the Red Sox in Bos­ton. He was at the Com­edy Con­nec­tion at Fa­neuil Hall with his fa­ther, Wally, and team­mates Mike Low­ell and John Mabry when he had an urge to per­form.

“I wasn’t drink­ing, and I got up there,” he said. “I wasn’t very funny.”

With more time on his hands af­ter base­ball, Demp­ster has taken up im­prov com­edy classes and has per­formed at the Com­edy Bar on Su­pe­rior Street.

“I’ll try any­thing,” he said. “I can go up there and to­tally bomb, which I have done, and it sucks. It takes a lot of work. I’m not naïve. I know how hard all these guys have worked to do any­thing like this.”

Demp­ster keeps work­ing at it, but un­like his class­mates, he has his own show to put his lessons to work. “Off the Mound with Ryan Demp­ster” de­buted in 2018 at the Vic Theatre in the vein of a late-night talk show. It de­buted on TV in Fe­bru­ary with the launch of Mar­quee. As much as Demp­ster en­joys host­ing, he wants his guests to take cen­ter stage.

“I want to bring the best out in my guests and get them to re­lax,” said Demp­ster, who has hosted such base­ball lu­mi­nar­ies as Mike Trout and Ken Grif­fey Jr. “I have to be the one to fa­cil­i­tate that, to give them that space and be able to share sto­ries and feel com­fort­able do­ing that.”

The show was put on pause so the net­work could ded­i­cate its re­sources to live game cov­er­age dur­ing the pan­demic, al­though it has con­tin­ued in pod­cast form. McCarthy ex­pects new TV episodes in the near fu­ture.

In the mean­time, Demp­ster will re­main a part of Cubs broad­casts, where he’s a nat­u­ral fit. He be­came a fan fa­vorite by ex­celling first as a closer and then as a starter, and he has im­mersed him­self in not just the Cubs’ cul­ture, but Chicago’s.

“Play­ing here for a long time and car­ing about the team and the city, I’m for­ever grate­ful for Chicago,” he said.

 ?? JOHN “NUNU” ZOMOT ?? Front, from left: Cub sp lay­ers Kyle Sch­war­ber , Ja­son Hey­ward and An­thon yR izz och at with Ry anD emp­ster at the Cubs Con­ven­tion i nJ an­uary.
JOHN “NUNU” ZOMOT Front, from left: Cub sp lay­ers Kyle Sch­war­ber , Ja­son Hey­ward and An­thon yR izz och at with Ry anD emp­ster at the Cubs Con­ven­tion i nJ an­uary.
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 ?? AP (LEFT), JOHN “NUNU” ZOMOT ?? Ryan Demp­ster as a Cubs pitcher in 2012 af­ter more than eight sea­sons with the team, and on stage at the Cubs Con­ven­tion this year.
AP (LEFT), JOHN “NUNU” ZOMOT Ryan Demp­ster as a Cubs pitcher in 2012 af­ter more than eight sea­sons with the team, and on stage at the Cubs Con­ven­tion this year.
 ?? FILE PHOTO ?? As an im­pres­sion­able kid in Bri­tish Columbia, Demp­ster stayed up late to watch his hero, Johnny Car­son, shown here in­ter­view­ing Bears quar­ter­back Jim McMa­hon on “The Tonight Show” in 1986.
FILE PHOTO As an im­pres­sion­able kid in Bri­tish Columbia, Demp­ster stayed up late to watch his hero, Johnny Car­son, shown here in­ter­view­ing Bears quar­ter­back Jim McMa­hon on “The Tonight Show” in 1986.
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