Jon Lester’s voice from above to Cubs kids: “Time to grow up sometime”

SHARE Jon Lester’s voice from above to Cubs kids: “Time to grow up sometime”
SHARE Jon Lester’s voice from above to Cubs kids: “Time to grow up sometime”

MESA, Ariz. – On the first day he pitched in a game for the Cubs, the team’s shiny, new ace demonstrated why the front office gambled one of those inherently risky long-term contracts on him.

Why Jon Lester was the No. 1 target of the Cubs in the off-season, why they were willing to go to $155 million for six years that are almost certain to include injuries, slowdowns or subpar seasons on the back end.

Just ask him about all the ridiculous hype and expectations fans and media – and maybe even a few people inside the organization – heap on the more recognized, celebrated prospects in camp.

Just ask him how fair it is to the kids.

“Time to grow up sometime,” Lester said.

And if you’re not ready to help, get out of the way.

“When I played in Boston we didn’t have time to grow up,” he said after pitching two scoreless innings against the Cincinnati Reds Friday. “You just had to show up and play. Each year you’re expected to win. That’s how I feel.

“Every year they should come in and expect to be not only division winners but also World Series champions. If you don’t have that mindset, I think you’re playing for the wrong reasons.”

Lester talked with a firm, flat tone in response to every question after his start Friday — a businesslike demeanor borne of experience, success, purpose.

“Expectations are what you make of them,” he said. “If you’re worried about what people expect of you, then you’re worried about the wrong things. You’ve got to be worried about the task at hand.

“[Expectations are] for you guys to write and blow out of proportion.”

But the media hype’s not out of proportion, he said

“There’s a lot of talent here,” he said. “Now it’s about executing, about playing good baseball for six months. It’s hard to do. That’s why he’s here.”

It’s definitely why he’s here.

A 6-foot-4, high-performance load of championship experience and matter-of-fact confidence, Lester will earn every dime of the largest contract in franchise history if his persona and habits influence the young Cubs enough to influence a championship.

Young pitchers such as touted prospects C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson have gradually begun working with and around him, soaking up as much of his experience as they can. And even hitters such as Javy Baez and Kris Bryant talk about what they can learn from him.

“Obviously, looking from the outside in, you see the talent,” Lester said, “especially young talent. You don’t realize how old you are until you come into this clubhouse sometimes. You get a bunch of young guys who are just starting out their careers, and its’ fun to be a part of, and it’s kind of fun to see those guys go through some of the bumps and bruises that you’ve been through in the past and help in any way you can.”

Lester won two championships in Boston – the first of which included him pitching the 2007 clincher over the Colorado Rockies barely a year after he was diagnosed with cancer, and just three months after returning to the mound following successful treatment.

He endured the biggest September collapse in history with the Red Sox during the beer-and-chicken summer of 2011 – followed by the Red Sox’ worst season in 47 years.

Followed by another World Series title in 2013.

Few have been there, done that in more ways in the game than Lester.

When it was suggested that prospects in Boston might have had a softer landing in the big leagues with more veterans he bristled.

“No,” he said flatly. “No softness. You’re expected to come in, and you’re expected to perform. And if you’re not, next.

“You can take that for what it’s worth. People say it’s hard to play there; the expectations are always so tough. They’re expected to win every year. But if you’re not expecting yourself to win, why are you playing the game?

“I don’t show up to lose.”

The Latest
The child had been playing outside in the area of Cherry and Hill streets Monday afternoon when he was hit by a bus that was driving through the neighborhood after high school had let out, police said.
The fatal attacks occurred in Marquette Park and West Englewood.
The free biweekly, published since 1971, has completed a move from for-profit to nonprofit ownership.
His lonely wife is going crazy (and medicating with whiskey) as he sits in silence and stares into space.
Ryan Leonard found a good batch of morel mushrooms, including his personal biggest, to earn Morel of the Week with bonus points for an excellent day indicator.