Jon Lester wins Hutch Award
The Puyallup native and Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester won baseball's Hutch Award. It's a personal victory for him — he was treated for cancer by a doctor from the renowned Seattle institution.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
About the Hutch AwardOrigin: The Hutch Award was created in 1965 in honor of the late Fred Hutchinson, a Seattle baseball legend.
Honor: The annual award goes to a Major League ballplayer who best exemplifies the spirit and competitive drive of Hutchinson, who died of cancer.
Winners: The first award, in 1965, went to Mickey Mantle. Winners with Northwest ties include John Olerud (1993), Jamie Moyer (2003), Omar Vizquel (1996) and Jon Lester (2008).
Tom Seaver had just given a tearful, heart-tugging testimonial about the cancer battle fought — and won — more than a decade ago by his daughter, Sarah.
"You see your baby girl go through this and it's very difficult," the Hall of Fame pitcher told the gathered group of youngsters and parents Wednesday morning at the Hutch School, who could relate completely. "It's a helpless feeling."
Next to speak was Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, who later Wednesday would receive the Hutch Award and had his own courageous battle with cancer. Seaver was the keynote speaker at the ceremony.
"That's tough to follow," said Lester.
At which point Seaver, having regained his composure, called out, "I have 311 wins, too — follow that!"
Such is the beauty of Hutch Award events, where traditional baseball banter mixes seamlessly with real-life heroism.
This year's Hutch observance was particularly poignant, in that Lester is not only a local product — he's from Puyallup, and starred at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma — but is the only one of the 48 Hutch winners to actually be treated for cancer by a doctor from the renowned institution named for Seattle baseball legend Fred Hutchinson.
That doctor was Oliver Press, a Hutch researcher and attending physician at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. He helped Lester through his 2006 battle with anaplastic large cell lymphoma — and later was consulted for a second opinion when the Lester family was struck again by cancer in March 2008.
This time, it was Jon's father, John Lester, a sergeant in the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, who was diagnosed with lymphoma, just like his son.
"They tell me there is nothing hereditary — just a bad coincidence," said the senior Lester.
He looked on proudly as his son, and Seaver, bantered with the kids at the Hutch School, which serves such a wonderful function filling the educational needs of school-age cancer patients as well as young family members of cancer patients.
I'm happy to report that Mr. Lester feels great, having successfully completed his two-month treatment regimen (undertaken in Lakewood) last June. He is now in a twice-a-year maintenance program with a good long-term prognosis. Asked which diagnosis was harder to deal with, his own or his son's, he didn't hesitate.
"Oh, by far it was worse to hear that he had it," he said. "By far. When Jonathan got it, it was devastating for me and my wife.
"I've lived a pretty good life. I'm not old, but I've been there, done that. He's just starting out."
And at 25, Lester's baseball career is just taking off. His place in eternal Red Sox lore is already secure, the result of winning the clinching game of the 2007 World Series against Colorado. He followed with a no-hitter against the Royals last May, and finished the 2008 season with a 16-6 record in 33 starts, clearly on the verge of becoming Boston's ace.
But it's the grace with which he handled his cancer ordeal that won over Red Sox personnel and fans.
"A lot of fathers watch their sons play baseball," John Lester said. "But I watched him go through treatment, and then I went through the same thing. I know firsthand what he's gone through, and I'm very proud of him.
"This award recognizes a baseball player who goes above and beyond, who overcomes adversity.
"And I know he truly fits that definition."
And now the younger Lester, who initially felt uncomfortable with the scrutiny that his cancer battle engendered, is ready to accept the attention.
"At first, I just wanted to come back and play, and don't ask me about it," he said. "I got frustrated at times, because it seemed like that's all I talked about, instead of baseball. Now it's to the point I'm talking about baseball more, and it's a little easier to answer those questions."
Lester knows his celebrity status makes him an inspiration to other cancer patients. But he doesn't believe he acted any more courageously than, say, young Sarah Seaver, who now lives happily and healthily in Sammamish, of all places, or the anonymous patients at the Hutch, or their counterparts around the country and world.
"I've said all along, anyone in my position would have done what I did," he said. "They wouldn't have sat back and sulked and wondered, 'Why me?' They would have attacked it and done their best to get back. I don't see myself as different from any other person."
Perhaps not, but in a legacy of recognition that dates back to 1965 and includes 10 Hall of Famers, Lester might be the most apt — certainly the most appreciative — Hutch winner of them all.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.