His senior year at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Jon committed to Arizona State University. He had been voted the 2002 Gatorade Player of the Year in Washington and was ranked the top player in the state by Baseball America.
Lester had pitched a no-hitter, striking out 18 of the 21 batters. His senior year, he went 4-2 with a 1.50 ERA. He was also a fine high school basketball player.
Lester has all the intangibles. He credits his parents for his maturity.
"They harped on me from day one to have a level head. My Dad's biggest line—and I hear it all the time—is that all I do is throw a baseball. In the greater scheme of the world, I'm nothing. I just throw a little white ball over a plate and see if I can get people out," Lester said.
Before the 2004 season, Lester would have gone to the Rangers had Boston been able to finalize a deal for Alex Rodriguez.
Before 2005 spring training, Baseball America had Lester ranked as 4th-best prospect in the Red Sox organization. The magazine moved Jon up to second-best prospect in the Boston farm system before 2006 spring camp opened.
In 2006, the day before he was scheduled to undergo a chemotherapy treatment, he and his uncle arose at 4:00 a.m. and with a guide drove through the Olympic Mountains to the Humptulips River, a swath of white water that cuts through the mountains of his native Washington state.
There, in the pouring rain, he landed the biggest salmon he'd ever caught, a 40-pound king. The next day, when he showed up at the hospital, his white blood count was so low they had to postpone the chemo treatment, and the nurses said they couldn't understand why he wasn't sick as a dog. Lester shrugged and said he felt fine.
"I smoked that fish," he said, "and we've been eating it for almost a year."
In November 2007, Lester was named the winner of the Tony Conigliaro Award given to an MLB player annually for overcoming adversity.
During the winter before 2008 spring training, Jon worked on bulking up. His plan: "Eat. A lot," he said. That, and stock his new home in Atlanta with furniture.
On May 19, 2008, Lester pitched a no-hitter over the Royals, the 18th no-no in Red Sox history, and the first by a lefthander since Mel Parnell threw one against the White Sox on July 14, 1956.
Lester was the third pitcher to win the clinching game of a World Series in one year and throw a no-hitter the next. Rube Foster did it for the Red Sox in 1915/16, and Sandy Koufax did so for the Dodgers in 1963/64, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The Sox are only the second team in the modern era (post-1900) to have a no-hitter thrown in consecutive seasons by a pitcher under the age of 25. Steve Busby did it for the Royals in 1973 and 1974. Lester was only the fourth lefthander to throw a no-no at Fenway, joining Mel Parnell (1956), the Yankees' George Mogridge(1917), and Dutch Leonard (1916).
In May 2008, Jon's father, John, was diagnosed with lymphoma.
In January 2009, Jon got married to his girlfriend, Farrah.
In Boston, Jon likes to go to Strega Ristorante.
As a kid, Lester's favorite player was Ken Griffey Jr. "He was a pleasure to watch—very personable," Jon said.
Jon's favorite baseball movies: "For the Love of the Game" and "Major League."
Lester says his favorite former teammate is, "Sean Casey. He's the man, a very down-to-earth person and fun to watch and play alongside."
In the offseason, Jon likes to go hunting and fishing.
April 1, 2013: For the third straight season, Lester was the Opening Day pitcher for the Red Sox.
August 26, 2013: Lester's smile tends to change on certain occasions. The most common smile is the one seen when he's on the baseball field or engaging in a friendly conversation. It's jovial. It's polite. But he does better.
Lester and his wife Farrah established NVRQT, short for "Never Quit" in 2011 to support kids in their battle against cancer and inspire researchers working endlessly towards a cure. Lester has written guest columns about his cause on Boston.com and CNN.com.
The big smile makes its way out less frequently. But a successful battle with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a blood cancer, when he was 22 years old gave Lester a lot to be happy about. He tries to share the happiness with others who are dealing with similar illnesses. Children battling cancer are often on the receiving end of Lester's graciousness.
He was in a particularly good mood recently on a day off as he hosted NVRQT Night at the House of Blues on Landsdowne Street. It was the second annual event for his charity, which raises money for the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation.
"Obviously, anytime you're dealing with kids it pulls at your heart a little bit," he said. "I got to meet a kid out in L.A. on this last trip named Zane and he really hit home with me. Getting to see [the children] smile and having a good time, going to a baseball game, or just getting their minds off going through treatment or being in isolation for six weeks like he was—it's the little things we can do for these kids and hopefully put a smile on their face.
It's not uncommon to see a group of children who are currently battling or have battled cancer waiting for Lester behind red tape during Red Sox batting practice. Routinely, Lester stops over and spends time with them. He takes pictures, signs autographs on NVRQT baseballs (specially designed all-white baseballs that provide for easy signatures and extra space to write encouraging notes), and shares his story.
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said he notices Lester interacting with children in every city during road trips. "I always see him taking time out of his day, regardless if he's pitching that day or if he's off," Saltalamacchia said. (Mastrodonato - mlb.com - 8/26/13)
Jon and wife Farrah have two boys. Walker and Hudson.
When it comes to Lester, no one questions his makeup.
"He gets his values from his parents," Cubs exec Theo Epstein said, before 2015 spring training camp opened. "His dad is a former policeman. Both his parents place a tremendous emphasis on pride, self respect, hard work, doing your job, not getting caught up in yourself or your ego—and he's been that way," Theo continued. "He's been a really serious worker, extremely competitive."
Jon leads by example. He is not a rah-rah, in your face guy. He is always working his hardest, both on and off the field.
"Oh, man, you want to talk about just an incredible leader," former teammate Ryan Dempster said. "Not the most vocal guy as far as the day he's pitching. He's so prepared, and I was extremely impressed by his work he did on the side and the diligence he had in the video room to the preparation with the catchers and the scouting."
February 2015: Lester was playing golf with Cubs pitcher Travis Wood, coach Eric Hinske and the Rays' Evan Longoria, and according to Longoria, the new Cubs lefty had a hole-in-one at the seventh hole at Estancia Golf Club.
Lester is serious about pitching. But on the golf course or in the dugout or with his teammates in private, the left-hander is completely different.
"At the field, he's business," Cubs pitcherJason Hammelsaid of Lester. "When he's not working, it's pretty much all about fun. Obviously, you aren't in the dugout with us, but during games, he's hilarious. He's watching the game, but he knows how to keep it light. He's been around long enough to know you have to have some kind of quirkiness to get through the season. You get a bunch of different characters on a team."
And Lester is different. It's not his preference for camouflage -- he has camo spikes and purchased a camo-colored cart for the starting pitchers -- or the fact that he has the biggest contract in Cubs history at six years, $155 million. Lester is a professional pitcher who likes to have fun. "He's a lot less rigid than he looks when he's pitching," Hammel said.
Keeping that business-like approach is probably what has made him so successful. Lester is tied for 13th among active pitchers in WAR with the Cardinals'Adam Wainwright (as of the start of the 2015 season). A three-time All-Star and a two-time World Series champion, Lester has totaled 200-plus innings in six of the past seven seasons and has finished fourth in the American League Cy Young Award voting twice.
"That guy's a competitor," saidDavid Ross, who was Lester's teammate in Boston and whom the Cubs signed after acquiring the lefty. He'll likely be Lester's personal catcher. "I'll take that guy any game, any time, no matter if he hasn't picked up a ball in two months."
"I don't know if I've met a more sincere player than he is," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's all about winning, period." (Muskat - mlb.com - 4/2/15)
Lester thrives on routine as far as his preparation, which he hopes will help him.
"For me, it's always been try to fall back on my routine. I throw the same bullpen, I throw the same warmup pitches, I do everything the same to combat the emotions getting too far out of hand. Once we get past that first pitch, it's business as usual."
Lester made quite an impression on manager Joe Maddon during his 2015 Spring Training. The Padres roughed up the lefty, and catcher Welington Castillowent over to Lester in the dugout to apologize.
"Jon Lester would not permit Welly to take blame for any of his shortcomings," Maddon said. "This was so refreshing and good, this is so awesome, that your guy is that accountable and that your guy gets it. ... I could not be more proud of a player on my team."
The Cubs hope that professionalism permeates through the rest of the roster. There's just one thing missing from Lester's resume. He is 0-for-41 lifetime at the plate, counting regular-season and postseason games. This spring, he did not get a single at-bat in a game.
"They're hiding me in the weeds—silent attack," Lester said. He's been working on it.
"In the American League, it was basically, 'Don't get hurt,'" Lester said. "I'd maybe get four at-bats a year, and don't get hurt. Now I've probably taken more [batting practice] than I have my entire time in Boston. It's just another thing we have to prepare for. I'll be prepared for it." There's no doubt he will be. (Muskat - mlb.com - 4/2/15)
They’ll never forget that encounter in Boston, a lengthy meeting between Jon Lester, a cancer survivor, and 18-year-old Anthony Rizzo, who had just been diagnosed with the disease. It’s a moment that created a special bond between Cubs teammates Rizzo and Lester, and still is discussed by the two stars seven years later.
“It’s funny. Every once in a while [Rizzo] always brings it up; he has a smile on his face when he talks about,” Lester said before the Cubs faced the Mets on Wednesday. “It’s definitely a meeting that I would always remember."
The first baseman headed to Boston for treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma, and the front-office staff brought Rizzo to Fenway Park to meet with Lester, who was two years removed from being diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma and a round of chemo treatments.
Then-Boston general manager Theo Epstein and then-manager Terry Francona approached Lester about speaking with Rizzo about his experiences.
“There are things that teammates or peers can say to one another that a doctor or a GM or manager can’t say,” Epstein said in May 2015. “To be able to process it as someone who had been through it, and pass on some really helpful words to a younger person to go through it. For them to be teammates here is great. They share that special connection. It felt like a privilege to be there and watch those two help each other out.”
Rizzo estimated he and Lester spent about 35 minutes talking in the bowels of Fenway Park during a rain delay, and said it was awesome for Lester to chat with him.
Rizzo ultimately underwent six months of chemotherapy, and found out four months later the cancer had gone into remission. He’s now one of baseball’s best first basemen.
Lester, who does charitable work to help those diagnosed with cancer, stressed to Rizzo to live his life the way he wanted. If he felt good, Lester told the youngster to go out and do things he enjoyed. If Rizzo was having a bad day, he told him to lay low. The players continued conversing after that meeting, with Lester lending support.
“Being in those shoes at one time, you go back and remember what you were feeling when you found out, and leading up to your first treatment and your next treatment and all those emotions come back,” Lester said. “When things go the way you want them to it’s nice to reminisce on those times and that meeting — and meeting his dad and meeting him.”
“Kind of reminisced about it. It was nice,” Rizzo said. “It was awesome what he did for me and I try to pass it along, what he’s done for me, to other people.” (Matt Ehalt - The Record - May 14, 2015 )
July 6, 2015: Lester recorded his first Major League hit with an infield single off the Cardinals' Lackey in the second inning on Monday to end an 0-for-66 career hitless streak that began in 2006.
August 14, 2015: Cubs pitcher Jon Lester reached out to his former manager and pitching coach, John Farrell, as soon as he got the news that the Red Sox skipper had been diagnosed with Stage 1 lymphoma. Lester knows something about the cancer, having been diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in August 2006. "I talked to him a little bit already," Lester said. "It was good. He seems pretty positive. Everything seems pretty positive, so that's good." Lester also took to Twitter soon after the game to express his support for Farrell."He's in a good place for it," Lester said of the Red Sox's medical staff and Massachusetts General Hospital. "Obviously, it's one of the better places, if not the best place in the country to be [to get treatment] if you do have cancer. He's in good hands. I know those doctors pretty well. It seems like he's doing well."
Lester, who still stays in touch with Red Sox medical director Dr. Larry Ronan, said Farrell will have a great support staff, similar to what the pitcher had when he had to deal with his battle.
"I don't really think you give John too much advice," Lester said. "If you know John, he's pretty strong-willed. I would imagine he'll be fine. I'm sure it's a little bit of a blow for his family. I'm sure he'll be fine through this whole process."
There isn't any way to prepare for this, Lester said.
"It's one of those things you have to just ride out," Lester said. "You have to do what the doctors tell you to do. I don't know the details of what he'll be going through or anything like that. I don't know the type. I just know it's lymphoma—it can be a million different things. It sounded pretty curable, it sounded pretty positive from what I read and what I saw. That's the most important thing.
"I don't think you can ever prepare for a situation like that. You just have to kind of grind through it." (C Muskat - MLB.com - August 14, 2015)
2016 Spring Training: It's been a couple of years since I read "The Little Engine That Could," but I remember something about a mountain and "I think I can, I think I can." According to its Wikipedia page, "the story is used to teach children the value of optimism and hard work."
Well, apologies to the Little Engine, but its tale of triumph as a childhood metaphor for perseverance has been supplanted by Jon Lester and his Spring Training home run.
Ladies and gentlemen, before a Cactus League matchup with the Rockies, Jon Lester had never hit a home run before, ever -- not during the regular season and never during Spring Training, either. I mean, he just recorded his first Major League hit last July.
But look at that. Lester, against all odds and all doubters, hit a two-run, opposite-field home run in the Cubs' 10-0 win. Having already grounded out earlier in the game, he held his bat steady, reached deep inside himself, to the very core of his being, and thought, I can do this. And so he did. ( Ben Cosman | MLB/ March 2016)
April 17, 2016: Lester, once known in part for his inability to collect his first career hit, blistered a double to the right-center field wall off Colorado starter Tyler Chatwood in the sixth inning. Statcast™ measured the two-bagger's distance at 396 feet and tracked its exit velocity at 109.9 mph, making it the hardest-hit ball off a pitcher's bat this season.
Lester is a wine aficionado, and when he was on the Red Sox, he and Buchholz launched their own lines of charity wines: "CabernAce" (Lester's) and "ChardonClay" (Buchholz's), with the proceeds going toward cancer research. When the Cubs were trying to convince Lester to sign with them in the 2015 offseason, they sent him bottles of wine.
"You know they're kind of thinking of you," Lester said. "It was cool." (David Adler - MLB - October 2016)
November 29, 2016: Lester and his wife, Farrah, named their daughter Cy Elizabeth, and the left-hander wanted to make it clear that had nothing to do with the top pitching award.
"When we got pregnant with [son] Hudson [in 2010], that was our girl name if it was a girl," Lester said. "That name has been in the works for a long time. We call her Cy Elizabeth, not just Cy." (Muskat - mlb.com - 3/5/17)
If the Jon is pitching, his father, John, is most likely in the garage. When Lester threw a no-hitter on May 19, 2008, for the Red Sox, his dad was in the bedroom watching a movie and wearing headphones, so he couldn't hear his wife's reactions to the game.
"I could hear her running down the hallway," the senior Lester said. "She burst into the bedroom and says, 'He didn't give up any hits!' I said, 'What are you talking about?' She said, 'He didn't give up any hits!' I said, 'You mean he pitched a no-hitter?'"
John then ran to the television in time to see his son celebrating after the game. "I've never watched him on TV in 10 years," John said. "I guess I could turn the sound off and not listen, but my wife gets very emotional about the game and she's yelling. Usually I'm in the garage or the bedroom, and I can tell the tenor of the game by what her reactions are."
Jon -- or Jonathan, as his dad calls him -- knows this. "It's funny, because other than [the no-hitter], he's seen all of my bigger starts of my career -- my debut, my comeback game from being sick, and I think all of my World Series games," Jon said. "That's his deal, and I can't change him. He's still my dad, he still loves me, but it's his quirk as far as watching me pitch."
John just gets too nervous. "If it's a World Series game, I won't miss it," John said. "But I normally need some help from people in the form of a beer or two or three during the game to calm me down."
He's now seen his son pitch in three World Series: 2007 and '13 with the Red Sox, and last year with the Cubs. How did he handle Game 7 of the World Series last year? "That was so nerve-racking," John said. "I was watching [Jon] more than anything out in the bullpen warming up. I was getting nervous by the minute."
John didn't want to be an overbearing "stage dad," so he didn't coach his son. He created an area in the garage where Jon could hit, using a blanket as netting, and they would play catch in the backyard of their Tacoma, Wash., home. "I caught him until he started throwing too hard," John said. "Then I told him he had to find somebody else." (Muskat - mlb.com - 6/15/17)
The Lesters can tell great fish stories. John is convinced that if Jon, 33, wasn't pitching, he'd be a competitive fisherman. John was introduced to fishing by his father, Rex, who passed away in January at the age of 95. "He could remember going through Columbus, Ga., through Fort Benning, and he'd say, 'There was this rock here and we turned here and went fishing,'" Jon said of his grandfather. "If you went down there and found the rock, you'd find the fishing hole. His memory for stuff was unbelievable."
Rex was left-handed and taught Jon how to play golf. Jon's oldest son Hudson's middle name is Rex after his granddad. Something else Rex and John passed down was the importance of treating people with respect.
"I remember [my dad] harping on how your handshake as a man is so important," Jon said. "I've tried to instill that in my boys, as well as just being respectful to people. I think that gets lost nowadays with some young guys. Just because of what you do for a living or who you are, that doesn't make you better than anybody else. You still need to respect people and treat people with respect.
"That was probably the police officer in [my dad] coming out," Jon said of his father, who served in the Air Force and the National Guard. "I try to make sure my kids say please and thank you and talk to people when they're spoken to. That's a big part of how I was raised."
Hudson turns 7 at the end of July 2017, and he's been learning how to fish from his grandfather on Lester's 1,500-acre farm, located about 15 miles southwest of Atlanta. "I get to see my dad teach my kids how to fish the way he taught me," Jon said. "That's fun to see, and it's cool for me, because I get to teach [my dad] stuff about hunting. Me and Hudson filmed [my dad] shooting his first buck. That was cool to do. It's probably how I'll feel when Hudson shoots his first deer."
There is another connection father and son have: cancer. Jon was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2006, and 18 months later, his father found out he had it, too. "He had hernia surgery, and luckily the doctor who was doing the surgery cared about more than just doing the procedure," Jon said. "I found out Opening Day of '08 that he was diagnosed. He went into remission and was almost five years removed, and then it came back.
"His is very different from mine. He waited about a year after it was rediagnosed and it grew, so he's like, 'I'll start treatment again.' Hopefully it goes away. Hopefully they find a cure."
Someone once asked the senior Lester which was harder: learning he had cancer or that his son did. "There's no comparison," John said. "When they tell you your kid has cancer, it hits you like a ton of bricks -- not that I took mine jumping up and down. It doesn't compare when they tell you that your son has it. It's something you think about all the time."
What John is most proud of is how his son has handled all the success he's had in the Major Leagues. "He got into baseball, and he's done well and it hasn't gone to his head," John said. "I think he will miss baseball when he finally retires, but I don't think it's his life. To him, family and that farm and being able to do things like that are more important than pitching, which I'm proud of him for. He's got his priorities straight." (Muskat - mlb.com - 6/15/17)
August 1, 2017: Lester not only hit his first Major League home run but collected his 2,000th career strikeout in the Cubs' 16-4 win over the D-backs.
June 2002: The Red Sox chose John in the second round, out of Bellarmine Prep High School in Tacoma, Washington. Jon held out almost all summer, then signed on August 15 for a bonus of $1 million. Gary Rajsich was the scout who signed Lester.
March 9, 2009: Lester signed a five-year, $30 million contract with the Red sox, with a team option for 2014 worth $13 million. And on November 1, 2013, the Red Sox exercised that $13 million option.
July 31, 2014: The A's sent OF Yoenis Cespedes and Oakland's second pick in the competitive balance compensation B round in the 2015 Draft, to the Red Sox, acquiring LHP Jon Lester and OF Jonny Gomes and cash.
December 10, 2014: Lester and the Cubs agreed on a six-year, $135 million pact. Jon's contract included a full no-trade clause and a $30 million signing bonus to be paid out over the life of his deal.
"The two things Jon cares about most are family and winning," said Theo Epstein said. "So we really tailored the presentation toward that.
"We knew early on that if we signed Jon, it would be about belief," Theo continued. "It was because he would believe in us, believe in our future, and believe that winning a World Series with the Cubs was a unique opportunity, something special for the second half of his career.
"We're not hiding the ball—the fact that we haven't won in so long helps define who we are. It adds meaning and resonance to what we're trying to accomplish here, and I think it attracts players who aren't afraid of that challenge and want to be here for the right reasons."