Ask any Major League pitcher, and he'll tell you that if you don't come to the mound physically, mentally and emotionally prepared, you might as well just throw with your eyes closed.
Boston Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester was always ready for the field, but he got thrown a curve ball that no player can ever anticipate or prepare for. On Aug. 31, 2006, two months after getting called up to the Bigs, Lester was diagnosed with lymphoma, a treatable form of cancer of the lymph nodes.
Lester recalls, "When I was called up in June, I had some success [7-2 in 15 starts]. But come August, I started having a lot of back pain. We were in Seattle, and I went to see my uncle, who's a doctor. He got me in the ER to get it checked out.
"When I learned it was cancer, the hardest part was those first couple days, just dealing with the fact of not playing baseball and having this new sickness. But once we found out what we had to do as far as treatment, I told myself, 'Lets move forward and try to beat this.'"
Ultimately, Lester wanted to get back to the Majors, but he took a one-step-at-a-time approach. "I wanted to get back to playing baseball, period, whether in the minors or wherever," he says.
Lester fought his way back to full health—and eventually back to the Show. "I had to prove myself all over again and show the managers I could pitch," he says.
His hard work paid off, and the Red Sox eventually named him as their starter in Game Four of the 2007 World Series. The leftie led his team to victory that night, allowing only three hits and no runs in 5 2/3 innings. "It felt like a normal game for me," Lester says. "I didn't do anything different—just went out and tried to do the best I could."
With so many triumphs in his young career, including a no-hitter against the Royals in May 2008, Lester says the secret to his success is preparation: "The biggest thing for me is my work between starts. I do my workouts and know my body is ready to take the pounding every five days. I know when I step on the mound, I will be physically prepared to perform. Knowing your body is ready eases your mind, so I only have to worry about what pitches I need to throw."
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