MESA, Ariz. — It’s one thing to call veteran Jon Lester a graybeard. It’s another to actually point out the gray that’s starting to become visible in his spring beard.
“Thanks for reminding me,” the Cubs’ 35-year-old lefty said after getting through almost four innings Thursday against the Rockies in his third start of the spring.
“Every day I wake up I feel old,” added Lester, who told his dad that one day, “and he just laughed at me. He’s like, ‘You have no idea.’ ”
But in a Cubs’ clubhouse with a young core that might have more to prove this year if it expects to stay intact, Lester looks as grizzled as he is essential to the Cubs’ plans for a 2019 season of “reckoning.”
“He’s one of those anchor kind of guys,” manager Joe Maddon said of his Opening Day starter. “And he’s really taken to this leadership thing.”
That would seem especially important after team execs talked over the winter about lacking a David Ross type of clubhouse influence the last season or two — and trying to address it on a budget.
Lester’s more stoic personality isn’t going to suddenly morph into the more charismatic — and sometimes in-your-face — Ross type.
But what about a little more Grandpa Lester as he starts his 14th big-league season?
Lester at least seems to be embracing the old-guy thing.
“At first, it’s kind of a hard pill to swallow,” he said. “You turn around and you think you threw a fastball well, and it says 90 or 91 as opposed to 94, 95. But it’s cool to have the [Anthony] Rizzos and the [Kris Bryants] ask you questions, and Kyle [Schwarber] and all of those guys who kind of look to you for what’s going on.”
Only Ben Zobrist, 37, is older than Lester.
It makes Lester a resource as much as a workhorse coming off a fifth All-Star season.
“I remember being in their shoes a long time ago and figuring out what you have to pay in dues and what do you do when you travel and what do you pack,” he said. “It’s cool to answer those questions. At the same time, I wouldn’t mind trading about five years and going back and having that on my side.”
Lester has three more spring starts before taking the ball March 28 for the opener in Texas.
In the meantime, he can regale his young charges with tales of the days before Twitter and Instagram — back before spin rates, team yoga instructors and chefs in every clubhouse.
“I remember our first cell phone,” Lester said. “My dad had one in our truck that was a bag phone you had to plug into the lighter outlet. Oh yeah, I remember. You couldn’t text on it. You could barely call on it, if it worked.”
The gray in his beard caught the sun as he spoke.
Of course, he could just shave the thing off, and nobody would see the gray.
“No,” he said. “It’s stuck with me now.”