Saving grace: Dempster teams with Lee

Dempster teams with Lee

MESA, Ariz. -- For every game Cubs closer Ryan Dempster saves this season, he hopes to be able to save someone's eyesight.

Dempster is making a $50,000 donation to teammate Derrek Lee's Project 3000 and will contribute $1,000 for every save in 2007. The mission of Project 3000 is to find a cure for Lebers Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), which has affected Lee's daughter, Jada, and resulted in a loss of vision in one eye.

Project 3000 was created by Lee and Boston Celtics CEO and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck in September 2006. Their goal is to find every man, woman and child affected with LCA in the United States, which is believed to be about 3,000 people. The program, in conjunction with the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, is hoping to find a cure.

Earlier this month, Michael Barrett and Lee teamed up to create "Swinging for Sight," and the Cubs catcher announced a donation of $50,000, plus $10,000 for every home run he hits.

"I'm actually going to do more than Michael," Dempster said. "I'm going to do $100,000 for every home run I hit."

Lee may have both Dempster and Barrett in the batting cages to work on their swings. In 313 career at-bats, Dempster has never hit a home run. But he did total 24 saves last season.

Don't think the right-hander won't be trying to get an at-bat. Dempster would do anything for Lee, the Cubs first baseman. The two were teammates together on the Florida Marlins from 1998-2002.

"It shows you not only what kind of teammate he is but what kind of person D-Lee is," Dempster said. "For me, it was a no-brainer. We get asked so many times to do charities throughout the year, a hundred different ones. We get requests all the time, and sometimes it's hard to sort through what you want to put into it.

"For me it was easy -- I've known Jada since she was a baby, and I've known D-Lee for 10 years," he said. "It's a great opportunity to help."

Dempster hoped that his and Barrett's efforts would encourage other baseball people to follow and join the fight against LCA.

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Lee's daughter, who turns 4 in April, was diagnosed with LCA last Sept. 14. His 1st Touch Foundation is selling bracelets to raise money and awareness, and Chicago artist John Hanley is offering a portion of the sale of prints of the first baseman to the cause.

In January, Cubs TV broadcasters Len Kasper and Bob Brenly held a charity concert and raised nearly $53,000, with a portion of that going toward Project 3000.

When Dempster first told Lee about his donation plan, Lee gave him a hug and told him how much he appreciated it. Dempster became a father last year for the first time with the birth of his son, Brady. These guys are more than just players.

"We're family," Dempster said. "I spend just as much time with these guys as I do with my own family. I remember the day D-Lee told me about [Jada], and came in the clubhouse and told us what had happened. I got very upset. It was a very emotional day, and then after the game, to walk into the family room and see my own son -- and every day thank God that he's healthy. It made me cry when I saw him.

"To realize what one of my close friends on the team is going through -- and to be able to help him out is pretty special," Dempster said.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.