'It's nice to be wanted': Lester reunites with Red Sox at camp

February 29th, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Five months shy of a decade since was traded by the Red Sox following stalled contract negotiations, the erstwhile ace left-hander finally came home on Thursday.

Lester threw on a navy blue Red Sox hoodie, some team workout shorts and eagerly started his two-day stint as a guest instructor in Spring Training.

“It’s special to be a part of this organization,” said Lester. “So to be able to come back and put this stuff on and walk around, and seeing the players and knowing what they're about to embark on is pretty cool.”

Perhaps Red Sox manager Alex Cora put it best.

“You always go back to your roots,” he said.

For Lester, it took a while to return to the team that took him out of high school in the 2002 Draft, the team that supported him through cancer at the age of 22 and the team he helped win the World Series in 2007 and ’13.

Craig Breslow, Lester’s teammate on that ’13 squad and now the chief baseball officer of the Red Sox, was the perfect person to set the reunion in motion.

“I was excited. I think, ultimately, when you’re done playing, you still want to be a part of something,” Lester said. “So it was nice to get a phone call and text saying, ‘Hey, we want you to come be a part of this.’ It's a good feeling. I think anybody in life just wants to be wanted, right? So it's nice to be wanted, and have your presence appreciated around these guys.”

Originally crushed by the trade that sent him to Oakland for the final couple of months of the ’14 season, Lester eventually got over it, especially when he found a new home with the Cubs the following year in free agency and was part of their fabled World Series champion squad in ’16.

But for most athletes, there’s always something special about the first team.

“I’ve obviously grown up and matured since leaving in ’14,” Lester said. “With that, you understand that this game sucks sometimes on the business side of things. When you're in the moment, it can be difficult and it can be hard to understand why certain things happen and what was maybe going through their minds or whatever, but the further you kind of get away from a situation, you grow up and you mature and you realize, hey, this game, as beautiful as it is, the business gets in the way sometimes. I was, I guess, a product of that.”

Lester was the focal point of Old Home Day at Fenway South, as Hall of Famers David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez also made their first appearances in camp.

While the guest-instructor gig is old hat for Ortiz and Martinez at this point, Lester was feeling his way around on Thursday.

“It’s a little weird. I won’t lie,” said Lester. “Just being on this side of it is a little different, getting to see how all the coaches and staff prepare for the day. Never got to see that side of the game. A little weird but cool. It’s a fun experience being around the guys, to see how everything's kind of run down here now. Everything is so different than just a few short years ago so it's pretty cool.”

How did Lester spend the team’s pregame workout?

“Wandering, I think, is the best way to describe it,” said Lester. “Not really knowing what to do, trying to learn this new language that pitching coaches are speaking to guys and players are talking. Trying not to be late to meetings. Just kind of hanging out, soaking it in and like I said, just trying to figure out what they're talking about right now. You know, it's definitely a different approach and a different kind of mindset for pitchers right now.”

Though the game is changing, the current pitchers still want to hear what a three-time champion like Lester has to say.

“You always take wisdom from guys that have been there,” said Garrett Whitlock, who started Thursday's 5-2 win for the Sox. “Those guys that last, those are the guys you want to learn from. It’s awesome getting to see guys like that, especially Lester and Pedro. We really lean on them and love having them around, that’s for sure.”

Though it was a long time in the making, Lester left little doubt that he loved being back.