Yesterday was a tough one in Boston. But life will move on. The Red Sox will play another game tonight, and I have to say, the lineup could look pretty good. Maybe we’ll actually be able to score some runs these next two months. And even if the games won’t mean much, it will be fun watching the new guys for a little while. Anthony Renaudo takes the mound tonight in his major league debut and it will be interesting to see how he copes with the Yankee lineup.
But before I move on, I want to share a few final thoughts on Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes. They are two of my favorite Red Sox players of all time for more than just their play on the field, and I needed to say a little bit more about the two.
At this point, everybody knows Lester’s journey. Drafted by the Red Sox back in 2002, Lester came up through the minor league system before making it to the big leagues in 2006. Then cancer struck, and he was faced with the struggle of his life. But Lester beat the cancer, and was back on the mound the next summer, even winning the clinching game of the World Series that year. After that, he quickly developed into a true ace. And last fall, he was excellent again in the World Series. All of this is leading to a big pay raise in free agency this winter, one the Red Sox seem unlikely to pay given recent change in free agent policy. So instead of letting him go for only a draft pick, they traded him for some extra value.
Lester was a Red Sox through and through. He represented everything right with player development in the Red Sox system, and his quiet style meshed well with all the various personalities that came and went. He was the model of a fighter, having beaten cancer at a young age. And we loved him for it. When he faced a setback on the mound, it was nothing he couldn’t get through. He wasn’t flashy, but he was always effective. The lowest ERA in World Series history speaks volumes about his ability to step up at the most important times. Quite simply, I don’t think the Red Sox would not have won in 2007 and 2013 without the lefty.
As I said in yesterday’s post, I grew up while Lester developed as a pitcher. Every big moment in his career, I can tell you where I was at the time. I can’t remember ever being happier than I was as a 13 year old attending Lester’s no-hitter. That night remains one of my favorite memories in my whole life. And his role in equally valuable championships created a host of other great moments for me and many other fans. And from a young age, he has been a wonderful role model.
I wish the Red Sox had signed him to a contract extension, but it doesn’t fit their new policy of not paying players long term contracts over 30. However, I think they will come to regret not locking him up. It’s incredibly difficult to find true aces, and Lester was one of those. If they aren’t successful in replacing him this offseason, it could be another long year. Ideally, he will be re-signed this winter. But I don’t think that’s as likely as many would hope.
There aren’t many athletes that have had as positive an impact on fans as Lester has. He has been a prime example of courage, strength and grace. Most athletes aren’t real role models. But Lester is one all Red Sox fans over the last ten years have been lucky to watch. I’m really going to miss him.
My relationship with Jonny Gomes is a little different. When I was a kid looking for role models, Gomes was a crazy young player on the fun-to-hate Tampa Bay Devil Rays. When the Red Sox signed him for two years and ten million dollars, I was a little skeptical. It seemed like a lot of money for a fourth outfielder. When I saw him at a dinner in Boston shortly after that, he was not friendly at all, and looked unhappy to be there. He was not off to a great start in my mind. Back then, I had no idea he would soon be my favorite player.
As the 2013 season was starting, my family heard tell that there was a Red Sox player living down the street, and it was Gomes. Sure enough, there was a giant red monster truck parked out front of a house down the street. The crazy, bearded man was my neighbor.
Then the bombings happened, and Gomes stepped up as a true leader of an entire city. He took on the role of team spokesman, and did excellently with it. The inspirational picture of Gomes flexing on second base in the “Boston” jersey on the front of Sports Illustrated was the beginning of Gomes’s role as leader of Boston Strong. And as the year went on, he endeared himself to everyone with timely hits, uncanny outfield play and incredible passion.
Whenever the Red Sox were home, I would see his red truck parked in his lawn – it was too big to fit in his driveway. And if I was lucky, I’d see Mr. Gomes himself. It was always exciting to see him in his unnatural habitat, away from the ball field. Once I saw him with his little kids, and as they waved at me, I saw Gomes in a new light as more than just a fiery ballplayer. It was always comforting to see that red truck, as I felt a connection to my team that I’d never felt before. While Gomes moved out shortly after the World Series, I will always remember the year he lived down the street.
Gomes also did a ton on the field. His pinch hit home runs provided momentum swings that kept the Red Sox streaking all throughout the year. And in the playoffs, even when he didn’t hit, good things happened when he was on the field. It was no coincidence that the Red Sox won when he was playing. He was a leader, one who inspired his teammates to do great things. Few players have the ability to lead quite like Gomes does.
I’m going to miss everything about my former neighbor. I’ll miss all he did for the city of Boston in the aftermath of terrible tragedy. I’ll miss all he did on road to a memorable championship. And I’ll miss all of those wild celebrations, be it punting the helmet or the army helmet and goggles.
Lester and Gomes were two special players. While they had entirely different styles, they both found ways to reach everyone around Boston with their stories and their play. They were two crucial pieces in the Red Sox title winning team and they will be missed. They’ll always be my favorites.