ST. LOUIS – It might have passed for a scene from the old Andy Griffith Show except that Jon Lester is about 190 pounds bigger than Opie.
But there on a trail near a fishing spot just outside of Denver, a father and son with their fishing poles happened upon a sight that believers in fate and fortune might mark as the beginning of the end of the Billy Goat curse.
“It’s not like it’s been in the dugout as a rally cry for us,” said left-hander Jon Lester, who starts Sunday Night in St. Louis as the Cubs open their championship defense. “I don’t even think half the guys know they’re in my locker.”
But the deer antler that Lester and his dad found that off day in Colorado two years ago has been at every game, in Lester’s locker, every day since that early April father-and-son discovery, since the Cubs beat the Rockies on Dexter Fowler’s ninth-inning home run the day after he brought it to the clubhouse – followed the next day by a walkoff win at home against the Cincinnati Reds.
If you believe in magic or UFOs – certainly if you believe in baseball curses – consider the antler.
Nobody had any idea what the Cubs might do in Lester’s first season, coming off another last-place finish in 2014.
Certainly nobody expected them to reach the National League Championship Series when catcher David Ross suggested Lester take the antler on the team’s second road trip.
“So I just took them, and they’ve kind of just been riding along with us for two years,” Lester said.
Two years, 199 regular season wins, 15 postseason wins and a curse-busting championship 108 years in the making.
Lester, by the way, isn’t especially superstitious.
He does wear the same style of undershirt for every start. “But I don’t have something I touch or something I do,” he said. “I try to keep everything the same. It’s kind of [about] routine. It’s not really superstition.”
But the antler isn’t going anywhere.
“They’ll stay with me,” he said.
“Do I think that the antlers had anything to do with us winning? No,” he said. “But it’s something fun and cool. And you see it every year. There’s some team that has something in the dugout that is a [rallying point] of some sort. In 2002 it was the [Angels’] Rally Monkey. The Royals had the praying mantis for a while [last year].
“Maybe if you’re struggling you’re thinking about the rally mantis as opposed to you struggling, and you go out and all of a sudden you’re hitting or pitching well.”
You won’t see the antler on the ballpark video board. Most won’t see it at all.
But that doesn’t mean the power can’t be felt.
“It’s just something that kind of started that nobody really knows about it, and I just throw them in my locker and it takes up a lot of my room on the road,” Lester said.
The antler’s future?
“Keep rolling,” he said.