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Former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster’s decision stuns ex-mates

Updated: March 18, 2014 6:29AM



MESA, Ariz. — Ryan Dempster’s sudden announcement that he planned to take at least a year off sent a shock of emotion through Cubs camp.

“Me and Jeff [Samardzija] were really, really surprised,” reliever James Russell said. “It’s sad to see that happen to a guy that’s so well respected around baseball, and especially well respected around the city of Chicago and all the guys in the locker room.”

Dempster made his announcement in an unexpected news conference at Boston Red Sox camp in Fort Myers, Fla., and cited physical problems with his neck as well as family reasons. He stopped short of calling it a retirement but walked away from more than $13 million left on the two-year contract he signed before last season.

“You never know the family situation,” Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio said. “We all think Ryan Dempster’s obviously got a lot left in his tank. He goes out on top with a World Series ring — one of the greatest experiences he’s had, from talking to him last year through their playoff drive.

“I wish him the best. Class act. And a good friend.”

Dempster, who still has a home in Chicago, spent 11 seasons with the Cubs, serving as the closer for one playoff team and an All-Star starter for another. He became a clubhouse leader and mentored countless young teammates along the way.

“Him and [Alfonso] Soriano were two of the coolest personalities you could ever meet,” said Russell, who told the story of how in his first year in big-league camp, Dempster was the first veteran to talk to the “terrified” kid — even inviting him to move from a temporary locker in a bad spot to an open locker next to Dempster.

“I wasn’t going to do it, and then the next day I come in, my stuff’s right next to him. Just the stuff he does for young guys and the team is amazing.”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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