Lilly, Dempster bonded by more than baseball

Lilly, Dempster bonded by more than baseball
April 22, 2011, 9:57 pm
Share This Post

Friday, April 22, 2011
Posted: 4:50 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Theodore Roosevelt Lilly III slid headfirst into second, trying to steal a base in the third inning of a Class-A game.

This was April 2010, less than six months after shoulder surgery, and Lilly got his Peoria Chiefs uniform dirty during a rehab start.

The Cubs had only invested 40 million in Lillys left arm. Why risk it?

For Lilly, the question was even more ridiculous. It didnt matter if it was sandlot or Nintendo or the majors. If the object of the game is to score more runs than the other team, then he will do whatever it takes. Thats what he was taught as a kid, how he was raised in a military family.

It will be the same way on Saturday, when Lilly starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers opposite Ryan Dempster. But as Lilly talked about his close friend in the visiting dugout at Wrigley Field, a tough guy looked like he was trying to hold back tears.

I cant sit here and tell you how much respect I have for him as a person first and foremost, Lilly said Friday. What I was able to learn from being around him the way that he treated people, the way that he loved this opportunity to pitch in the major leagues and the way that he would deal with adversity, off the field and on the field

Yeah, wow, without getting emotional I dont know how anyone could have created someone that was as unselfish as Ryan.

Dempster and Lilly will probably go out dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. Together they drilled a sense of professionalism into the Cubs pitching staff, never pointing fingers or complaining about run support.

I want to see which one drills the other one first, Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson joked. Im sure theyll be going back and forth yelling at each other.

But the two pitchers are bonded by more than baseball. Dempster was reminded of that on Friday morning as his foundation hosted a large group of medical staffers and families dealing with DiGeorge syndrome, or 22q, the genetic disorder that afflicts his two-year-old daughter.

Dempster invited them to Wrigley Field so they would know that theyre not alone. Thats what Lilly whos worked extensively with those same charities did for Dempster.

He was a big help to me going through everything when Riley was born, Dempster said. You come to work and he broadened his shoulders to help take some of the pressure off me and that relieved a lot of the stress.

Hes contributed financially, emotionallyits been overwhelming. Hes a true, true friend of mine and it shows all the time.

Dempster one of the most accessible players on the team politely declined to talk to reporters when the Cubs traded Lilly at last seasons deadline for cash, utility infielder Blake DeWitt and two pitching prospects.

It bothered Dempster but worked out for Lilly, who signed a three-year, 33 million extension with the Dodgers.

Lilly was central to Tribune Co.s huge free-agent spending spree in the winter of 2006. He helped the Cubs win two division titles and gave them 47 wins, 113 starts and a 3.70 ERA in three-plus seasons.

I had built up these dreams and aspirations of trying to be a member of the Cubs team that won the World Series, Lilly said. We fell short of that, so theres a gap in the experience in that way. I thought that was kind of one of the responsibilities that (Alfonso) Soriano and myself had coming over here.

(But) I do believe that we pushed ourselves. We continued to look for ways to get better. We werent able to get it done, so I guess its something we have to live with. But that would have been the ultimate.

Now 35, Lilly looks back on the friendships he made in Chicago. He thought about Ron Santo and all the positive energy the late broadcaster always brought to the ballpark. This became a second home.

On a stage like this, Lilly cant wait to compete against Dempster again.

The fondest memories of my life are living here in this city, Lilly said.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.