I sat there, just as stressed out as his parents were. Hanging on every pitch. Every ball, every strike, every foul ball. I can't remember being so nervous about a non-playoff baseball game. I wanted him to do so well, just like everyone else. This kid, three years older than me, this aw-shucks pitcher from Tacoma, Washington, this incredible person whose mental and physical strength carried him back to this stable mound of dirt, proceeded to show me, his parents and his teammates we had no reason to be nervous.
That's what I wrote on July 24, 2007, one day after Jon Lester gave me the chills, giggles, sniffles and every other positive sensory experience when he beat the Cleveland Indians in his first start coming back from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. It was something so special, so uplifting, I didn't think it could be topped, especially by a game I didn't even see.
Yet there I sat, less than a year later, screaming on my couch... "JONNY! JONNY DID IT! OH MY GOD!"
I had been following the game sporadically on my laptop (MLB.tv had the game blacked out for some reason, of course). I was flipping between Suns-Spurs Game 7 and the "Dancing with the Stars" finale, when suddenly, TNT broke its in-game coverage to deliver the glorious news. Despite the fact I had to get up at 3:45am to go to my internship this morning, I went to sleep only after watching the final strikeout approximately 386 times. Lester has had a shaky Major League career. He became known for high pitch counts, iffy command and overthinking his pitches. More or less, he was an average, maybe slightly above average, pitcher, a number three or number four starter. When the Sox held onto him, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buccholz in the offseason instead of trading them for Johan Santana, I was ecstatic. I just felt Lester and the rest had something special, something that couldn't be quantified in pitch counts and walks. Especially after winning the clinching Game 4 of the World Series.
Last night, Lester cemented himself as anything BUT average. He threw a career-high 130 pitches (how appropriate...even in a no-hitter, his pitch count was pretty high). His final pitch registered 96 on the gun. He threw first pitch strikes to 20 of 29 batters. He walked only two batters. And the no-no was aided by a great catch by Jacoby Ellsbury.
Lester will always have a special place in my heart, as I'm sure he does with every Red Sox fan and cancer survivor. I lost both of my parents to cancer by the time I was 13. I saw the pain people with this disease go through. I grew up knowing that no matter how bad things seemed to get, they could always be worse. Instead of focusing on the past, I realized life was too short not to enjoy it. Part of enjoying it is getting through struggle, and succeeding. Jon Lester exemplifies everything that I hope I have done in my own life, not letting seemingly insurmountable obstacles to get to where he wants to be.
I felt my dad on that night in Cleveland, as a spectacular sunset enveloped Jacobs Field. I felt him again last night, with the brightest moon I have ever seen shining through my window.