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When It Clicked: Red Sox LHP Jon Lester

Every summer, hundreds of young ballplayers, fresh out of the draft, disperse to dozens of far-flung locales -- rookie ball, instructional leagues, short-season Class A -- to begin their professional careers. For some it is their first extended time away from home, and their first time competing against players who are just as good as they are.

How you handle that transition says a lot about your chances of making the majors. Boston's Jon Lester handled all of it -- not to mention a battle against lymphoma, which cost him part of the 2007 season -- with preternatural aplomb, and at age 25, he is one of the top young pitchers in the game.

"For me it was more just the experience of getting to pro ball and going out and pitching every five days. That helped me become a better pitcher, because you can't learn anything if you're hurt or if you're not running out there. I think the biggest thing is just going out and playing and having fun, because every time you're out there, you're learning something, not just about yourself but about the game and about your opponent.

"In pro ball you're around it every day. In high school you're playing three times a week and you practice, but it's just not the same. And I didn't do the whole college thing. But in pro ball, you're playing it seven, eight months a year. I definitely learned a lot about the game of baseball my rookie year [2002].

"You just learn how to be a professional. Being an everyday player is hard. In high school you pitch against the good teams, and in pro ball you pitch every five days, regardless of who you play. You gotta get used to routines, get used to the travel, eating terrible food, especially in the low minors. It's just the rite of passage you have to take to get to this point."

By Dave Sheinin  |  July 3, 2009; 8:57 AM ET
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