Lester honored for dedication, courage
Pitcher and cancer survivor receives Seattle's annual Hutch Award
SEATTLE -- For Jon Lester, winning a baseball game, no matter how important, will never match the thrill of beating cancer.
Lester, the 24-year-old Tacoma, Wash., native who helped the Boston Red Sox to the World Series title in 2007 and pitched a no-hitter in 2008, is perhaps more known for overcoming anaplastic large-cell lymphoma and returning to Major League excellence less than a year later.
For that accomplishment, Lester was honored Wednesday afternoon at a chilly Safeco Field as the recipient of the Hutch Award, given annually to the Major League player who best exemplifies the dedication to team, family and community and exemplifies the honor, courage and perseverance of the man the award and Seattle's famed cancer research center was named for, Seattle sports legend Fred Hutchinson.
After a keynote address by Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver and an introduction by Seattle resident and longtime former Mariners and current Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer, a major local philanthropist who helped establish the Hutchinson Center's Gregory Fund for early cancer-detection research, it was Lester's time to take the podium.
Lester offered a touching story of his stay in the Hutchinson Center, where he was referred after his August 2006 diagnosis and underwent six rounds of chemotherapy before recovering at his parents' home in nearby Puyallup, Wash. By Dec. 1, 2006, he was cancer-free, and he joined the Red Sox in February 2007 for Spring Training.
Lester described his final day of treatment there, and as he was laying in bed, with all of the scans done and the results clean, the nurses came in and handed him a baseball that had been signed by the hospital staff members that had cared for him.
"I've been pretty fortunate to collect a lot of memorabilia over the years, some pretty [good] names such as Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan. ... This ball, still, to this day, means more to me than any of those baseballs, jerseys or bats or cleats that I've received over the years," Lester said.
"It still sits on my mantel, and it means more to me than anything in this world."
Lester's humility and athletic prowess are certainly worthy of an award that honors a man such as Hutchinson, who was named Seattle's "Athlete of the Century" by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, going 25-7 as a right-handed starter for the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League in 1938 and winning his 19th game on his 19th birthday in front of a packed house at old Sick's Stadium.
Hutchinson went on to win 95 games in an 11-year, big league career with the Detroit Tigers, including an 18-win season in 1947 and a 17-win campaign in 1950, but he achieved even more fame for his managerial career, which included stints in Detroit, St. Louis and Cincinnati and culminated with a World Series appearance with the Reds in 1961.
In 1964, Hutchinson died of cancer at the age of 45, and his brother, Bill, a surgeon, spearheaded the drive to construct the now-world-renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
Earlier Wednesday, Lester and Seaver honored Hutchinson's memory by visiting students at the Hutch School, which provides state-certified K-12 education for pediatric cancer patients and school-age family members of patients receiving treatment through the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
Later in the day, Seaver choked up with tears in recounting stories of interactions with cancer patients during his legendary playing career and the story of his daughter, Sarah, also a cancer survivor who is now healthy and the proud mother of three children.
During his brief speech, Lester also thanked the Red Sox organization, his teammates, and his father, John, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma last year but also had it detected early and is doing well.
But the biggest thanks from Lester went to his mother, Kathy.
"The past two years I know have been very, very tough for her," Lester said. "She has been through a lot of crap from us, to say the least, and she's put up with a lot of sickness, a lot of moody days, and she's seen both of the men in her life go through something that I wouldn't wish on anybody."
Lester's Hutch Award continues a long tradition of touching stories and noble contributions to the community from players. In 1965, the inaugural Hutch Award was given to New York Yankees hero Mickey Mantle, and other recipients have included Sandy Koufax (1966), Joe Torre (1971), George Brett (1980), Johnny Bench (1981), Dave Dravecky (1989), Jason Giambi (2000), Curt Schilling (2001), Moyer (2003) and Craig Biggio (2005).
Lester became the fifth member of the Red Sox to win the award, joining Carl Yastrzemski (1967), Tony Conigliaro (1970), Andre Dawson (1994) and Mark Loretta (2006). Eleven members of baseball's Hall of Fame have received the Hutch Award.
For more information on the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Hutch Award, go to www.fhcrc.org.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.