Although not required for nearly two more weeks, the Chicago Cubs' newly-signed and prized ace Jon Lester has reported to Spring Training early. MLB.com's Carrie Muskat reported Monday afternoon that Lester has already arrived at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona, to start getting to know his new teammates that Cub fans hope he will lead to victory as early as this coming season.
Rather than rehash Lester's well-documented success on the mound with the Boston Red Sox and a brief stint with the Oakland Athletics once again, let us look at what Lester can provide in the clubhouse. First and foremost, he has experience down the stretch, in the playoffs, and in the World Series. Lester won two World Series and pitched in two more postseasons while in Boston. In addition, while the Athletics sputtered into the second A.L. Wild Card position last season after a tremendous first four months, Lester kept rolling along with a 2.35 ERA in 11 starts for Oakland. He also has a 2008 no-hitter to his credit.
Toughness pours out of Lester. Pitching in the most clutch situations is tough enough, but considering that he has done all this after his biggest battle makes it even more impressive. Early in his career, which began in 2006, Lester was diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes and other immune-system glands. He missed nearly a full calendar year from August 24, 2006, to June 11, 2007, while recovering from surgery to remove the cancerous cells. He joins another Cubs star, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, as tough Cubs to recover from a variation of such a dreadful disease. Since the surgery, Lester has had only one other stint on the disabled list, a 19-day stint in 2011 for a sore shoulder. Clearly, he has fully recovered from that as well.
The experience, leadership, and physical and mental toughness that Lester brings are just what this new Cubs team needs. Filled with young studs, the lineup has little experience grinding out a 162-game Major League season and competing for a postseason berth or division title at the same time. In addition to winning on the mound, Lester's job includes motivating the young players and leading them through the long haul into September and -- hopefully -- October.
Lester is up for the challenge. Muskat quoted the ace lefty in her Monday afternoon report. Lester discussed the battle he had with the Kansas City Royals down the stretch last year and in the American League Wild Card game, which he started. The Royals scored six runs off him in 7 1/3 innings. Lester compared this year's Cubs with the 2014 Royals. Said Lester,
"Look at the Kansas City Royals -- they're a bunch of young guys who never won before and look where they ended up. They didn't win [the World Series], but they got there. They can use that experience now and have that confidence, and who knows where that takes them.
"Baseball's such a weird sport, where you have nine individuals playing for a team. And if those nine individuals pull the same direction on the same rope, then you're good. And that's all we're going to try to do, is come to Spring Training, mesh together and bond and become brothers and hopefully that takes us to the end, and if it doesn't, we'll keep busting our butt to get to that prize."
Lester knows he is more than just a picher on this team; he is a leader. While Cub fans, though, understandably hope for and even expect Lester to do big things on the Wrigley Field mound (and in away games), they need to understand that it takes all 25 men on the roster to perform well for a team to win a division title. One man cannot do it alone, but the absence of one man for an extended period can certainly hurt.
Lester has a new challenge: he must now bat. He is 0 for 36 with three sacrifice bunts, a sacrifice fly, and 22 strikeouts in his career in Interleague play.
Lester is tough both physically and mentally, and he is very talented. He is already in Spring Training preparing for the new season. Cub fans are excited about what the future appears to hold. Lester is ready to lead his new young team to victory, and fans hope that victory will come very soon.