Sports Columns

June 7, 2014

Loran Smith: Lester seems destined for greatness

BOSTON — The Boston Red Sox and their prized left-hander, Jon Lester, are in contract negotiations, which causes considerable nervousness among the countless Sox fans from Connecticut to Maine and beyond the Canadian border. You would think the brass at 4 Yawkey Way would make sure that Lester, whose current offseason residence is in Sharpsburg, Ga., remains a seasonal resident in Beantown.

The Red Sox are a high-profile team, and under new ownership they have made it clear they expect to compete with the hated New York Yankees — and that means they have cash they’re willing to spend to win. However, Lester seems to be under the radar when it comes to high-profile players.

It’s hard to imagine that this Georgia resident — who gave the best performance by a Red Sox lefty in the World Series since Babe Ruth — would leave Boston. Red Sox owners are not into Broadway productions and need no funding for a redo of “No, No Nanette,” which is how it came to be that the Babe became a Yankee.

The Sox have had left-handers with credentials to write home about, starting with Ruth and followed by Lefty Grove. Then we fast-forward to Mel Parnell, who was followed by Bill Lee and Bruce Hurst. With a few more years in Fenway and a couple more World Series opportunities, chances are that Jon Lester will become the best lefty ever to wear a Red Sox uniform.

He began this season with 1,237 career strikeouts, which was already the most in history for a Boston left-hander. In all likelihood, he will surpass Cy Young in strikeouts sooner than later. Young has 1,341; as of Friday night, Lester had 1,332. That’s just another of the many interesting features to Lester’s career. His name is linked with baseball immortals like Ruth and Young.  

A native of Tacoma, Wash., Lester had a friend from Buena Vista, Ga., who invited him hunting in south Georgia, and that influenced him to settle in Coweta County. There he has desired proximity to the Atlanta airport and short drives to bountiful fishing and hunting grounds.

If there is anything as fulfilling as striking out a hitter with his cutter in a tight situation with men on base, it would be knocking down a pair of quail on a covey rise or hooking an 8-pound bass on a crisp November morning. Lester works tirelessly to win ballgames for the Red Sox, but when he is home in the offseason, he enjoys the outdoor opportunities in Georgia, his adopted state.

Sitting in the Red Sox dugout following batting practice here recently, Lester reflected on his career. Although there have been countless highlights, he talked without a trace of immodesty or ego. His has been a heady experience, but just as you can never relax on the mound with men on base, he knows life is like the Green Monster, the left field wall that looms 310 feet away from home plate in Fenway Park.

It giveth and it taketh away. A pop fly might float over the wall for a cheap homer, but a line drive that would be a double anywhere but Fenway bounces off the Green Monster to an outfielder, who is able to hold the hitter to a single.

To Lester, that is how life is. You can never take anything for granted. This is a man who is a cancer survivor, coming back in 2007 after missing part of the 2006 season while undergoing treatment. He knows what is important in life.

Take time to count your blessings, underscore due diligence when it comes to winning games and go home to a quail supper in the offseason.

It’s nice to have your name beside Babe Ruth as the only Sox pitchers to win a World Series game. It’s nice to have possession of two championship rings and to be a difference-maker in the World Series, as he was against the St. Louis Cardinals last fall.

It’s nice to have played in an All-Star game and to have pitched a no-hitter — and to realize that life, like baseball, doesn’t offer any guarantees.

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.

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