Jon Lester arrived early to Spring Training looking more like a baseball pitcher than a cancer patient.
Lester is just now recovering from a rare form of blood cancer known as anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a disease that cut his 2006 season short last year. Except for a bald head, which Lester shaved because he was tired of seeing his hair fall out in clumps due to chemotherapy, Lester looks ready to return to the mound for the Red Sox.
"It's more or less, 'How you doing?' I say, 'Good.' That's about it," Lester told the Boston Globe, describing the typical exchange he has had with teammates since arriving at camp. "I think I've more or less surprised people," he said. "They expect to see a cancer patient instead of me."
Lester has nearly gained back the 25 pounds he lost, but his legs are not as strong as he would like. Otherwise, he fits in with the other pitchers attempting to earn a job on the Sox staff.
"When I first saw Jon today, I almost didn't recognize him because I didn't expect him to look that good," said teammate Jonathan Papelbon. "Looked like the same ol' Jonny to me. I've said prayer after prayer for him this offseason, me and my wife. It's just awesome. Awesome, awesome, awesome to see him come back from that. The fight that he's gone through, you know, it's just amazing.
"For me, that's the kind of teammate I want, somebody that's never going to give up, somebody that's going to go out there and bust his butt to succeed and bust his butt to get where he wants and deserves. That was awesome, almost like a pick-me-up."
While others may be impressed with how well Lester looks, he is just glad to be back on the mound playing baseball, something he has done his whole life.
"It's just nice being normal," Lester said, "and working out, getting back to that everyday routine."
Garciaparra negotiations led to other signings: It wasn't exactly a package deal. But when the Dodgers re-signed Nomar Garciaparra, they got a jump on two other free agents also represented by Garciaparra's agent, Arn Tellem.
Negotiations between Tellem and the Dodgers for Garciaparra took place in the agent's home. Tellem left the room and let Garciaparra talk one-on-one with Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti.
"You make a commitment to me and I'll make a commitment to you and play wherever you want me to play," Garciaparra said. "I just want to stay with the Dodgers."
The two sides agreed on the parameters of their deal that day. Also in that negotiating session, Tellem mentioned to Colletti that he had two clients who were interested in playing in Southern California: Mike Lieberthal and Randy Wolf.
"This was a case of veterans having a clear idea where they wanted to play and of the club having the need for them," Tellem told the Los Angeles Times.
Wolf visited the Dodgers at their offices, the same strategy Tellem used with Garciaparra a year earlier.
"I learned a lot about Randy Wolf that day," Colletti said. "It intrigued me to give this kid a chance. He was a lot like Nomar, the kind of player I have a great affinity for."
The Dodgers ended up signing both Wolf and Lieberthal in the offseason.
Matsuzaka's arrival brings a throng of media: One would have thought it was the second coming of the Beatles judging by the horde of media in Florida. Instead, it was just the arrival of Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka at Tampa International Airport. Seventeen photographers, 10 television cameras and nearly a dozen reporters, many of whom were from Japan, greeted the Boston Red Sox pitcher.
As he prepares for his first Spring Training in the United States, Matsuzaka is not concerned about having a new regimen.
"I think my experience getting ready in Japan is not that significantly different," he told the Boston Herald. "Compared to outfielders or hitters, I don't have to do the same thing, basically just running and building my strength."
Camp has not opened for the Red Sox yet, but Matsuzaka said he would "love to meet my teammates." His teammates feel the same way, as they are excited to see Matsuzaka pitch in a Boston uniform for the first time.
"I want to see what he brings to the table," said Jonathan Papelbon, who is moving from the closer's role to a starting spot in the rotation this season. "He's got a new acupuncture guy he's bringing in so I might try some acupuncture.
"If he needs something, obviously I'll be there. And, hopefully, if I need something, he'll be there for me."
Hirsh out to make quick impression in Colorado: Jason Hirsh wants Colorado fans to know they have nothing to worry about.
Traded by the Houston Astros to the Rockies this offseason as part of the deal that sent Jason Jennings to Houston, Hirsh told the Rocky Mountain News the Rockies made a good deal.
"I know a lot of people are upset the Rockies lost Jennings," Hirsh said. "They want to know, 'Who are these kids?' If Taylor (Buchholz) and I develop like I know we can and Willy (Taveras) plays the center field everyone expects, this could be a trade of one All-Star for three All- Stars."
Hirsh could be the jewel of the deal. He is coming off back-to-back seasons in which he was the Pitcher of the Year in the Texas League (Double-A) and Pitcher of the Year in the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) in 2005 and 2006. Hirsh now is aiming for some of the top awards possible this season as a Rockies pitcher.
"Cy Young or Rookie of the Year, or both," he said about what honor he is gunning for in 2007. "You have to aim high. Hopefully, I'll live up to those aims. Obviously, every team's goal is to win a World Series, and the same applies to me. I want to do my best, and if I do that ... "
Last season he was 13-2 with a 2.10 ERA for Round Rock, including a 12-0 stretch with a 1.28 ERA before being called up to the Astros. With Houston, he went 3-4 with a 6.04 ERA. However, in his final six starts, he was 2-2 with a 3.58 ERA. Hirsh was happy with how he ended the season and was looking forward to being a key member of the rotation. Then he found out he was traded to Colorado.
"It was disheartening when I found out," Hirsh said. "I thought I was a key part of that organization for years to come. I knew everybody over there. I was raised (in pro ball) by the Astros. They drafted me. They gave me the opportunity for success. And then I was gone.
"Then I realized the business side of it, and I can't do anything about it."
Now Hirsh wants to prove to Rockies fans that they landed a good pitcher.
"I have a lot of pride, and what this has done is make me work real hard so when the (Rockies fans) see me they will realize they got a good deal," Hirsh said. "I realize I got a good deal. Colorado has young talent. We have a chance to develop together and be good for a long time together."
Looper may head to rotation for first time: As the St. Louis Cardinals start to form their five-man rotation for 2007, at least one spot is very much up for grabs. Lifelong reliever Braden Looper is in the mix to fill that fifth starter's role.
As long ago as October, Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan talked to Looper about the possibility.
"He talked to me, I don't remember exactly when it was," Looper told MLB.com. "It was either toward the end of the year or right at the beginning of the playoffs. And he just kind of mentioned it to me.
"We were kind of just joking around with each other and I thought he was playing a little bit, and he was like, 'No, seriously, you never know what will happen. Start thinking about it.' That type of thing."
Over the winter, the idea of him auditioning as a starter became more and more real.
"As the offseason went on and they called me a few times, I kind of got excited about it," Looper said. "I look at it as a challenge to prove a lot of people like you guys [reporters] wrong.
"I'm an athlete and I have pride, and when people say you can't do something, it makes you want to do it even more. I know I've never done it in the big leagues, but I look at it as a huge opportunity to do something different. I'm looking forward to it, man."
Burke ready for regular role in center: Chris Burke, who is slated to be the second baseman of the future when Craig Biggio retires, is taking over center field this year in place of the traded Willy Taveras.
Burke believes he will surprise people with his play in center this year.
"I feel like I can throw a little bit better than people are giving me credit for," Burke told Astros.com.
Burke has played outfield for the Astros, but he also played second base, he seldom got the chance to work on improving his arm strength. This year is different as Burke will be a mainstay in center as Mark Loretta will see the backup playing time at second base. Because he knows he will not be going back and forth between the outfield and second base, Burke has been able to concentrate of getting his throwing arm ready for the long throws from the outfield.
"I'm going to get out there and keep stretching my arm out," Burke said. "This time of year, it's tough for all ballplayers. You let your arm rest for the winter, and it's a matter of getting it loose and getting it stretched out. Playing center field, playing the outfield, knowing where my focus is going to be, I'm going to be really getting after it, long-tossing my arm. I don't anticipate throwing will be a problem."
Burke appeared in 38 games as a center fielder last year for the Astros and was comfortable out there. Still, Burke knows he has some areas, such as positioning, to work on during Spring Training.
"In the infield, if I was to shade a guy one way or the other, it may be a step or two," Burke said. "In the outfield, it might be 10 or 15 feet. If you're 10 or 15 feet in the wrong direction, that's the difference between getting to a ball and not. I just want to be in the right position, to give myself the best chance.
"Obviously you're not going to catch every ball. Sometimes a guy's going to hit a ball away from where the scouting report says he's going to hit it."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.