As a life-long Red Sox fan, I feel especially qualified to speak on this subject. My all-time Red Sox hero is Jon Lester. I have said this before. I’ve said it on the air. I’ve said it to friends. I’ve said it at speaking engagements. I’m saying it here. During one his stints with the PawSox, Lester confided that he someday looked forward to just being a pitcher for the Red Sox, not the kid who battled back from cancer. Jon was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in 2006. He had already made his debut with Boston, and suddenly he was in a battle for his life. Thankfully, he fought it as hard as he does any opponent and has been deemed “cancer-free” since. Aside from the inevitable mentions that will come, I think his wish has finally come true. He’s not poor old Jon from Puyallup, Washington. He is the ace of the staff. A deep and talented staff. 2010 could be a breakout seaason for Lester. Not that he hasn’t already proven himself worthy. I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat when he started Game 4 of the 2007 World Series against Colorado. It’s just mind boggling when I think of how far he’s come.
Jon last appeared in a PawSox uniform in July of 2007. It was a typical Lester outing, workmanlike. He held Ottawa to three runs over seven innings. He was called by Terry Francona and has been a fixture at Fenway ever since. The time was right. Julian Tavarez had been keeping his spot in the rotation warm, but had struggled. Every one was looking for a story-book ending. Teammates were as excited as fans about his retu rn. Jonathan Papelbon was no exception. “He is an inspiration to all of us.” Jon himself, was prophetic back then, talking about his Major League return and this very day, as well. “It was hard and frustrating to do the steps and the progressions that they had.” He added “That as long as I sat back and kept telling myself that they want me to be healthy, and that’s the main goal for the future, not right now.”
He has responded. A hard throwing lefty who strikes out a ton of batters. As a 21 or 22 year old prospect, I remember Ron Johnson talking about his body language. Then, his emotions could betray him. Watch Jon Lester today. He is tough, stoic and a bulldog, personified. He has matured. I guess the process was helped along by the cancer. Guys do grow up, though. A fact of life.
That is one of the great benefits of my job. I get to know these guys before they become famous. Before they’re rich. When they have a dream and it is within their grasp. Lester has made it. He is no longer just “the kid who beat cancer”. He is also the kid who can beat anyone else in the big leagues. Another reason I look forward to the season. Not only to see what Jon does in Boston, but to find out who will be this years’ Lester at McCoy? Who defies the odds and becomes the next hero of Red Sox Nation?