Lester takes life lessons from dad, grandfather

Cubs lefty's father doesn't watch son pitch because of nerves, except for World Series

June 15th, 2017
John, Rex and Jon Lester pose for a photo, with Jon's son Hudson being held in the middle. (Jon Lester)

CHICAGO -- If the Cubs' 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."

:: Father's Day 2017 ::

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."

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, 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."

That's a perfect gift on Father's Day.