Following a Different Script

brian dempsey


he recruiting process treats prospective college athletes in different ways. For highly-rated prospects, offers tend to pile up very quickly. The decision for these athletes—who are only 17 or 18 years old—becomes a lot like that of a professional free agent, with coaches from multiple prestigious programs pitching their universities, the expensive facilities, and any other bells-and-whistles they have to offer, hoping that the young man or woman at hand will choose their respective school.

Boston College baseball junior infielder Brian Dempsey followed a different script.

“I don’t have the best arm strength out there. That’s no secret,” Dempsey said jokingly.

Dempsey received an offer to play baseball from just one Power Five institution: BC. Outside of Chestnut Hill, the Potomac, Md., native was getting looks from a few Ivy League schools and other strong academic programs, along with a chance to walk-on at the University of Miami, but BC remained his sole formal offer.

“When he got off the bus, it wasn’t like, ‘Wow, look at that kid,’” Dempsey’s father, Dennis Dempsey, added. “He’s a good player, but you have to watch him a few times before you can appreciate him.”

Despite not knowing how he would fit in on an Eagles team with plenty of established infield talent, Dempsey wanted the challenge of playing the highest level of baseball that he could. So, he signed on the dotted line and committed to BC.

Eagles head coach Mike Gambino applauded Dempsey’s quick hands, baseball IQ, and premium defense as reasons why he took the chance in bringing him into the program.

“The best way to describe him is that he’s just a baseball player,” Gambino said. “You just sort of knew that you were going to get a kid that was going to continue to grow and get better throughout his career.”

Overlooked by bigger programs, Dempsey was okay with the fact that others might be naturally bigger, faster, and stronger than him. What wasn’t okay was letting somebody else outwork him.

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ports were ingrained in Dempsey’s life since birth. His father had played college basketball at Mount St. Mary’s University, and Dempsey grew up with many of the same interests. He started playing organized baseball at the age of 5, but began playing wiffle ball in the backyard with his dad as early as 3 years old.

Watching the sport on TV also attracted Dempsey to baseball. He would watch games with his dad, and pointed to MLB-icon Mark McGwire as a player that influenced him from a young age. He often found himself watching McGwire’s games, and his exciting, power-hitting style of play drew Dempsey to the sport himself.

Dempsey is marked with an intense competitive spirit, and part of this can be attributed to his relationship with his brother, John. John is two years younger than Dempsey and has followed in his older brother’s footsteps in playing college baseball—John has just begun his first season at Wofford College.

The brothers grew up facing off in every sport, particularly wiffle ball, basketball, and golf. The rivalry that was fostered between the two drove each of them to improve and helped develop Dempsey’s strong work ethic.

“It was the best thing ever,” Dempsey said about the sibling dynamic he had with John. “I think it helped both of us become really competitive and always want to beat each other.”

The brothers grew even closer in high school, where a two-year overlap at Georgetown Prep saw them on the same side of the field. In fact, they were right next to each other in the lineup and on the left side of the diamond as well. Dempsey hit first and played shortstop, while John hit second and played third.

Dempsey participated in both baseball and basketball in high school and excelled in both sports throughout his four years at Georgetown Prep. Despite his father’s path to college basketball, he had fallen in love with baseball, and also believed that the diamond held the best future for him. He continued to work hard and play all of the baseball that he could, suiting up for his high school and a number of different travel and showcase teams on his journey to BC, including Headfirst Gamers, a Washington D.C. based program that he was involved with for several years.

He was used to playing with older kids, and he continued to do this in high school, spending time on showcase teams with a number of players who had already committed to college while Dempsey was still very early in the recruiting process. He played showcase ball with a number of guys who have gone on to sign with top programs, like Will Matthiesson at Stanford and Nico Tellache at Oregon. Dempsey has always strived to challenge himself however he can, and choosing to come to BC was another challenge that he was excited about.

Throughout the recruiting process, Dempsey was guided by the help of present and former coaches. He pointed to Justin Cronk and Brendan Sullivan, who had both coached him through Headfirst Gamers. These two coaches in particular helped Brian both growing up and into college as he adjusted to a new environment.

Cronk, who coached Dempsey for four years beginning at age 11 at Headfirst, had high praise for his work ethic as well. Cronk saw Dempsey’s steadfast desire to get better, even when Dempsey was just a young ballplayer.

“Some players would just go through the motions and do only what they needed to,” Cronk said. “But Brian would go above and beyond to take his game to the next level. He never rested on his natural ability to get him to BC and has continually worked to make himself better.”

After making the fateful decision to enroll at BC, Dempsey found the transition to the college game to be a difficult one.

“Everyone throws harder.” Dempsey said. “The speed of the game is just so much more emphasized than it was in high school.”

Despite the learning curve of college baseball, as well as the fact that Brian was not heavily recruited, he worked and fought his way into the lineup. He started 42 of BC’s 53 games, most of which at third base, with Johnny Adams occupying Dempsey’s natural position at shortstop. However, Dempsey took the opportunity and ran with it. He tallied 37 hits with a respectable .261 average, and added 19 runs scored. In addition, in his first season at the hot corner, where quick reflexes and longer throws are necessary, Dempsey shined, committing just five errors.

Dempsey’s freshman season was capped off with a three-game set that he described as his favorite of his career so far. In the last regular season series of the year, BC needed a strong showing against Holy War rival Notre Dame to clinch a berth in the ACC Tournament. It did just that, sweeping the Fighting Irish. Dempsey contributed three hits, three runs, and three walks throughout the series, and started all three contests in the pivotal stretch.

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he high that became of his freshman year quickly turned into another hardship, though. Shortly after the conclusion of his freshman season with the Eagles, Dempsey tore the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his left thumb. The injury left him in a cast for over a month and sidelined him for the entire summer, preventing him from playing summer ball. Without the opportunity to stay in baseball shape over the summer, Dempsey went back to work in the fall. Because he felt like he was behind in his training, he grinded even harder to not just get back to where he was before the injury, but to take a step forward.

“I really stayed afterwards, hit off the tee a lot,” Dempsey said of the extra work he put in after practices. “A lot of my confidence last year came from knowing that I worked really hard and that I kind of deserved to have a good year.”

And what a year it was for the sophomore infielder. Dempsey appeared in all 49 games, starting 48 of them at a new position: second base. With Jake Palomaki moving from second to short upon Adams’ departure, Dempsey and his quick hands fit right in at second. After developing his arm strength the season prior at third, he was better equipped to turn the double play from a stationary position at second. That skillset helped significantly, as Dempsey did not have the luxury of momentum that he could carry while coming across the bag from shortstop. He sported a .991 fielding percentage, making just two errors on the season, and he constantly improved his footwork and understanding of the position as the season went along.

“The thing with Brian, if you watch him last year, was he went from having a pretty good double play turn to by the end of the year he could turn the double play as well as anybody in the country,” Gambino said.

Then came his improvement at the plate. The tee work led to a spike in nearly every statistical category. His batting average jumped almost 60 points to a team-leading .319, while his increased plate discipline significantly increased his walk total to 23. Throughout the season, he was constantly putting the ball in play, striking out in just 25 at-bats.

After seeing his name mostly slotted ninth on the lineup card for the beginning part of the season, Dempsey continued to build confidence at the plate, and consistently found himself hitting fourth in the order as the season concluded. After being graced will a full, injury-free, off-season after his sophomore year, Dempsey was ready to take his game to the next level yet again.

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aving hit his stride in 2018, it was time for Dempsey to come home to shortstop this season. With Palomaki having graduated, Dempsey’s experience at two infield positions made him the perfect candidate to fill the big shoes that were left at short. Flexibility on the diamond is often taken for granted, but it has been one of Dempsey’s biggest assets, and being able to return to his natural position has continued to increase his confidence and comfortability with the Eagles.

Dempsey is embracing a leadership role in his first season as an upperclassman. Drawing from his own experience, Dempsey knows that the jump from high school to college baseball is a difficult transition to navigate, especially considering how much the game speeds up. So, he has sought to help others ease that shift.

Having his brother John entering his first season of college baseball has made it more natural for Dempsey to serve as a mentor to the talented freshman here on the Heights, using a lot of the same advice in both cases. He appreciates the role that Adams and Palomaki played as mentors in his first two collegiate seasons and wants to carry that forward, understanding the importance of grooming young position players like Cody Morissette, Lucas Stalman, and Sal Frelick.

Like the path of Adams and Palomaki, Dempsey’s two-way consistency and versatility have the possibility of attracting the eyes of Major League scouts. Yet, in the days of launch angle and broken home run records, Dempsey is quite the opposite type of player people salivate over: 84 of his 89 combined hits in his first two seasons have been singles.

“I have felt a little bit of pressure, especially in the summer, to change my game a little bit,” Dempsey spoke of his style of play compared to the tendencies of the modern MLB. “But I kind of realized that I am who I am. I’m just going to try to hit for a high average, I got faster over the summer, so I’m going to try to steal more bases, and play good defense, and hopefully someone will pick me up because of that.”

The increased strength has already been apparent this season, with Dempsey notching his first collegiate home run during the second weekend of the new season against Bethune-Cookman, and he has shown off a stronger arm from the other side of second base.

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hange has been a constant in Dempsey’s time at BC. He’s played three positions in three years, moved from ninth to third in the lineup, and dealt with a pair of outgoing graduating classes that included mentors Adams and Palomaki, along with another pair entering the Birdball environment. The Eagles also took steps back in the win column in Dempsey’s first two seasons, finishing below .500 in each and failing to make the ACC Tournament last season, a contrast from the 2016 run to the Super Regionals before Dempsey arrived on the Heights.

What has not wavered has been Dempsey’s work ethic. Instead of statistical goals like batting average and fielding percentage, Dempsey’s goals for the season ahead include hitting seven days a week after practice and getting in the weight room three times a week.

“We’ve always tried to instill in him the fact that hard work does get you ahead,” Dennis Dempsey said of his son’s work ethic. “He enjoys playing baseball, so I think it’s easy for him to work hard.”

Dempsey still might not intimidate opponents when he steps off the bus. His throw from the deep hole might not have scouts reaching for their radar guns. His singles approach might not be on par with the modern MLB or his childhood idol, Mark McGwire.

But that’s okay with him—he’ll just put his head down and get to work.

Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / Heights Editor
Graphic by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor
Images by Jess Rivilis / Heights Staff and Delaney Vorwick / For The Heights

Marc Occhipinti

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