If Ryan Dempster is having a little bit of an “off” year, there may be a perfectly good explanation that the rest of us can relate to quite easily: his newborn daughter Riley has been hospitalized since the day she was born over two months ago.

She was born prematurely, and has a syndrome that prevents her from swallowing. She basically lives in an incubator with a tracheotomy tube in her throat to provide her food.

For a parent, not exactly a dream come true.

But Ryan Dempster was a positive thinker long before this, and it should help him and his family get through it. From this story at cubs.mlb.com:

“I try to stay as focused as I can out there. Early in the year, when [his family] was in Arizona, April was tough. I couldn’t even see her.”

He struggled to get through April, going 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in five starts. In May, after Riley had been transported to a Chicago hospital, he was 3-2 with a 3.76 ERA in six games.

“At least with her in Chicago, every day I can go to the hospital, and I can see her and hold her and hang out with her and cuddle with her and play with her. I try not to bring it to the field or even at home, because I want to stay as positive as possible.”

He has definitely had some struggles this year compared to last, and lots of “experts” were predicting his downfall after his great year in 2008. And who knows, maybe they are right. Maybe he was overachieving last year. But even if he was, he could still be your reliable number two or three starter for many years: he has the stuff, the smarts, and the attitude, and he is a great clubhouse guy. So if he fails to go 17-6 every year, I think I can live with that.

But as is so often the case, there seems to be a bigger picture here. And in serious health situations like this, I view pro athletes as exactly like you and me. No difference at all. And I’m pretty sure that you, me, and most other people would have some struggles in other areas of our lives, including our jobs, when faced with a similar burden.

All the fantasy players and rabid fans might be unhappy with Dempster because he isn’t 8-2 right now like he was at this point last season. Which is fine, I guess, to a point.

But sometimes we forget that these players have their own lives to lead, and aren’t there just to satisfy our entertainment needs and competitive jones. And if they aren’t right inside, they probably aren’t going to be right in the more visible ways, either.

In an interesting side note, Dempster’s page at baseball-reference.com shows his salary history. In 2004, his first year with the club, he made just $300,000. Last year he made over $7M. And I’d bet he’d trade every single one of those seven million dollars right now to heal his baby girl so she could have a more normal life today.

Money is great, but without good health, what have you got, really?

(published at TheLoveofSports.com, June 2009)