With a cap on, hiding his still growing-in hair, Jon Lester appeared almost like his old self today at the minor league complex. Lester was one of the first few to arrive in Fort Myers, where he's been for about a week already, as his strength and mechanics work back into the shape they were in before he was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma last season. He threw a session on the mound wearing a black T-shirt that read "it's a strong man's game" across the back.
"When I first saw Jon today, I almost didn't recognize him because I didn't expect him to look that good," said Jonathan Papelbon, after arriving today for the first time. "Look the same old Jonny to me. Obviously I've said prayer after prayer for him this offseason, me and my wife. It's just awesome. Awesome, awesome, awesome to see him come back from that. The fight that he's gone through, you know, it's just amazing. For me that's the kind of teammate I want, somebody that's never going to give up, somebody that's going to go out there and bust his butt to succeed and bust his butt to get where he wants and deserves. That was awesome, almost like a pick-me-up."
Lester's weight had dropped all the way to 190 pounds at some points in his treatment but, as of today, he's back up to 212 pounds, very close to the 215 or so that he normally carries during a baseball season. It's a good sign, one that he hopes will cause the Red Sox training and coaching staffs to let him go without holding him back.
"Once those guys show up and see that the weight is back on, I'm in shape, I'm doing all my work, I'm running, I feel good, then I think everything will be back to normal," said Lester, who still managed to go on his annual duck- and quail-hunting trip with Sox infielder Chad Spann in January, after his cancer treatments were finished. "Until that happens I think they're going to talk about being cautious with me. Like I said, if they tell me, 'Hey, we need to back you off,' I've got to do that, I've got to listen to what they have to say."
For now, he said, he's just happy to be out of the house, not so worried about germs that it required constant hand-washing. Now he's more worried about repeating his mechanics. And, though he's still not sure where he'll be during the season -- Boston or Pawtucket -- he's happy to see the rest of the team returning, joining him in Fort Myers. He's glad to see that surprise that Papelbon mentioned, too.
"I think more or less it surprised people," Lester said. "They're expecting to see the cancer patient here instead of me. It's good to get that feeling that I've prepared well and came in in shape."