FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There is a playful side to new Red Sox right-hander Ryan Dempster, one he is more than happy to display once his work is done for the day.
What does he hope to accomplish this spring?
"I'm going to try to shoot under par," Dempster said. "That's a big one, and I'm going to try to swim with a dolphin at some point. I've seen a few of them on the water."
Don't let Dempster's dry sense of humor fool you. When it comes to his craft, Dempster is the consummate professional, working tirelessly not only to get the most out of himself, but whichever teammates might be observing him.
The Red Sox didn't just acquire an innings-eating hurler back in December, they also got a well-respected veteran who still has the same enthusiasm for the game he did five or 10 years ago.
Tuesday was the day Dempster took the mound for the first time in a Boston uniform, and he produced two hitless innings, walking none (that is common for the righty) and striking out two.
"Things went well," Dempster said. "My body felt good, my arm felt good. I was able to attack the strike zone for the most part. Good first day."
Count manager John Farrell among those pleased with Dempster's performance.
"He threw the ball well, he established his fastball, showed a good split against lefties and righties," Farrell said after the Red Sox's 15-4 loss. "[He] went out and did exactly what we hoped he'd do in two innings of work. It was clean. He did a good job of controlling the running game. I thought he threw the ball very well for his first outing in camp."
With his Canadian accent, the British Columbia native speaks easily in front of the microphones and cameras. He's low key and comfortable in his own skin.
This might have been just a Grapefruit League game for Dempster, but he knows that there shouldn't be any wasted motion on a baseball field.
"Our job during the season is to get outs, so why not practice that as much as we can?" Dempster said. "I've always taken that approach in Spring Training, whether I'm a young guy trying to work my way in, or a veteran guy. I practice trying to get outs. Those are guys you might face during the year, they might get traded, that's an opportunity to learn."
At the point of his career Dempster is at now, he knows his command must get better all the time, because velocity is inevitably going to drop. Last year with the Cubs and Rangers, he walked 52 batters in 173 innings.
This is the same pitcher who was once a walk machine, issuing 97 of them for the Marlins in 2000 and 112 in '01.
"I remember times when I'd throw more balls off the backstop than in the catcher's glove," Dempster said. "I think it just comes with a little bit of experience. You feel more comfortable."
Dempster also knows that his offseason and Spring Training conditioning has a direct correlation to his results on the mound.
"Working out isn't just about getting strong. It's discipline," said Dempster, who signed a two-year, $25.5 million contract. "Sometimes it helps you get through the mental grind of the ups and downs of the season. It's something I've always prided myself in.
"As you get older, you get more experience, but your stuff starts to go downhill. I try to make that decline as slow as I can and just try to keep myself in good shape and continue to learn and use that knowledge. I think it's paid off.
"It is for everybody. Whether it's me or a reliever or a position player or anyone else, those guys that are working hard in the weight room and on the field and doing their conditioning, it usually for the most part translates to success on the field."
Dempster will pitch once every fifth day, but he'll be a presence the other days. He explains how it worked with former teammate Ted Lilly with the Cubs.
"One guy would go seven and you'd come in the locker room afterwards and say, 'I guess I have to go eight tomorrow.' That's something that's really important," Dempster said. "That friendly competitiveness and pushing each other is so important, because there is a lot in the tank -- sometimes there's more in there than we realize. Sometimes it might take somebody on the team to push you that little bit extra."
As Farrell embarks on his first season as the manager of the Red Sox, Dempster is the type of player who will make his life easier.
"You see the work he goes through early in the morning to get ready for the day," said Farrell. "He talks to other guys on the staff. It's very genuine, it's very candid, but at the same time, he likes to have fun in those down times. He's going to be a very good influence on the remaining members of the pitching staff -- more by his own approach to the game. Not by what he says, but how he goes about his work."
Anything else Dempster has learned as he enters the latter years of his career?
"Juggling. I have that down pat now," Dempster said, "but I can't go any more than three hands. I also have some quarter tricks and a few card tricks, but no tricks substitute for hard work."
And his real Spring Training goal?
"To get out of camp healthy," Dempster said. "That's all I ever want for the whole entire team."