Jon Lester doesn't relish press conferences or media interviews. The Cubs 2019 Opening Day starter didn't get into baseball because he wanted to sit in front of cameras or find his name quoted in articles. This makes it ironic that the answer to the question “Who is your favorite player to interview?” – a question that I field often as a sports reporter – may be Lester.
The southpaw isn't on John Lackey's level when it comes to his disdain of holding court with the media, but he's not quite a "media darling" like his good ole' battery mate David Ross, either. It's unlikely you'll see Lester in a TV booth one day (even though he'd be great), but he gets that it's part of the gig and most important, he respects journalists trying to do their job.
The Cubs ace is intimidating and challenging (in a good way), but when you can convince him to give you a few minutes of his time, the conversation is always tremendous. The 35 year-old veteran is insightful, thoughtful, genuine and funny. He has a knack for self-deprecating humor, which makes him even more human and relatable. He always has a great story to offer and his transparency sets him apart.
That brings us to the golf course idea.
Many fans know about the lefty’s love for the links. NBC Sports Chicago thought that maybe, if we were able to talk to Lester in a place he feels comfortable, we would be able to capture him at his best. When I first proposed the idea, he asked me, “How many times will you bother me this week if I don’t say yes?” My response, “Everyday.” He agreed.
“I’ll do it if you leave me alone,” Lester said. Persistence is key and basically that exchange was a win in my book.
We discussed the details, but like most avid and very talented golfers, the thought of going to a public course where we could bring our cameras wasn’t really Lester’s style. He was sure he could convince his private course to bend the rules and let us follow him around. But alas, not even a three-time World Series Champion had that kind of pull. He promised to lower his course standards for us next spring, but in the meantime a ride home from work on camera, would be our next best option.
Eric Fogle, one of our terrific and most versatile photographers, grabbed his gear that was prepped to be outside on the course and instead managed to squish it all in to the passenger’s seat of Lester’s brand new Mercedes. Originally, we planned to have multiple photographers involved in this feature shoot, but as luck would have it, the other half of our crew was pulled to White Sox camp in Glendale following the Manny Machado news.
So, here is this 50 pound camera sitting on Eric’s lap, with the lens about a foot from Lester’s chin. I sat in the back seat hoping to somehow warm up a guy who just wants to be playing golf already.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to start the conversation or where it would go, but what I did know was that I had a 20 minute car ride to take the discussion in any direction. He shook his head and grinned a bit when I mentioned the start of his 14th big league season.
“I’m just old,” he joked. But from there, as you’ll see and hear in the video, Lester opens up and shows us a side of himself he rarely reveals. The devoted dad and husband, the loyal teammate and friend, the fun-loving wine aficionado and the Hodgkin Lymphoma survivor who has raised millions to help in the fight against pediatric cancer.
That vulnerability is often masked by the fierce competitor we watch take the mound every fifth day, but this is a peek at the person whom I consider a “favorite interview.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.