When I was trying to decide what to write about for this week’s Metro column, of course I considered doing a piece on Jon Lester. The handsome 23-year old went 7 and 2 last season, winning his first five decisions—the first rookie lefty to do so for the Sox. For those of you keeping score, that put him ahead of the likes of Bill Lee, Bruce Hurst, and George Herman Ruth. No wonder that while he was still in the minors, the Rangers insisted he be part of a deal for A-Rod, or that the Marlins insisted he be part of a deal for Josh Beckett. Or that the Red Sox were having none of it.
But after 15 starts and 60 strikeouts in his first year in the majors, Jon Lester was diagnosed with lymphoma. Since then, Bostonians have respected the Lesters’ privacy while also wishing him well. A couple of local girls started selling rubber bracelets with Lester’s number on them to raise money for the Jimmy Fund, a longtime Boston charity that helps kids with cancer. And Hub columnists have squeezed every drop of compassion out of their keyboards.
All the while, Jon Lester has been chomping at the bit, impatient to get back on the mound. “It’s been hard getting treated like you’re in a glass bottle,” he told the Globe. On Monday night, when Jon made his first big league start since his diagnosis, the cameras repeatedly swerved over to Mr. and Mrs. Lester, perched on the edge of their seats. The sideline reporter asked them about their feelings, and they did their best to answer.
Meanwhile, Jon Lester pitched, earning his 8th major league win.
So I decided I’d had enough of the hushed tones that cancer elicits. Enough of the inspirational and the reverential. Enough of glass bottles. Because Jon Lester is six-foot-two and a hundred and ninety pounds. His hat always sits a little crooked, giving him a cocky look that fits his pitching style. He’s got a powerful fastball and a nice curve, which he mixes in with changeups for deception. He’s sometimes erratic—he tends to walk a lot of people and loads the bases more often than I’d like—but has a veteran’s ability to get himself out of those jams. He’s all business (except for the occasional fist-pump) and he’s looking forward to the stretch. Jason Varitek, who’s caught more games than anyone else in a Red Sox uniform, may have felt nervous. But Lester didn’t, at least not after the first pitch.
So if you’re here for the motivational poster, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Jon Lester’s here to play baseball.