One bad year didn't shake Lee's confidence
CLEVELAND -- On a hot day several years ago, Cliff Lee knew he could make it to the major leagues. It was his first spring training with the Montreal Expos, and as Lee watched Carl Pavano throw a bullpen session, his always rock-solid confidence began to soar."I'm sitting there watching him, and I'm thinking: This is a major league pitcher, I know I can do this," said Lee, who had admired Pavano from afar. "Not to downgrade him, but once I saw him live and in person doing what he was doing, I knew that I could do it." Competition and confidence were attributes Lee always remembers possessing. Whether it was against his many cousins and older brother, or friends at school, Lee's focus was unmatched when it came to pingpong, darts, tag or baseball. Growing up in Benton, Ark., Lee was raised by working-class parents, and his days were happily spent outside. Not only was Lee determined to win, he always held the belief that he would, and he usually did. "You see a lot of guys that have unbelievable stuff, but they're missing the edge, the confidence to put it all together to be successful," Lee said. "If you're not confident and you're a little bit timid out there, that's when you're going to be exposed."
• An AL-best 17 wins and 2.43 ERA
• The first Indians left-handed pitcher to start an All-Star Game
• 10 times Lee has worked at least eight innings
• .651 career winning percentage
• 1.30 walks allowed per nine innings pitched (an AL-best)
• 5.58 strikeout-walk ratio (best in the AL)
Best Win Pct.
Single season, min. 20 decisions (since 1900)*
|Greg Maddux||'95 Braves||.905||19-2|
|Randy Johnson||'95 Mariners||.900||18-2|
|Ron Guidry||'78 Yankees||.893||25-3|
|Lefty Grove||'31 A's||.886||31-4|
|Preacher Roe||'51 Dodgers||.880||22-3|
|*Cliff Lee: 17-2 (.895) in 2008|
I'd have to say the down you get from failing is way worse than the up you get from being successful. It's something you've got to be able to get past and learn from. You see people make excuses and you just don't want to be that guy.
-- Cliff Lee
"He's taken all the thought out of it. It's almost like a video game: You press a button and it goes."That doesn't mean Lee is emotionless. In fact, his strength has never been tested more than when his son, Jaxson, was diagnosed with leukemia when he was just 4 months old. Lee was at the end of his Class A season when doctors told him and his wife, Kristen, that Jaxson had a 30 percent chance of surviving. Jaxson endured radiation, chemotherapy and a blood transplant, and today, at 7 years old, is in complete remission. "I'm blessed that he's alive," Lee says. "Life is never easy. It's way more important than struggling in baseball." Lee says he never would have gone to college were it not for baseball; his parents couldn't have afforded it and he'd probably be working construction. He says his parents raised him to be accountable for his actions. A constant class clown who was consistently punished with detention, Lee realized that if he wanted to play in the major leagues -- his dream since he was 10 years old -- he needed to stop getting into trouble. So he did. It was in high school, then junior college when he would at first be intimidated by the level of competition. But all he needed was that test, to see what all the other pitchers threw, and he knew he'd fit in. It was necessary for Lee to be tested at each stage of his career in order to convince himself he could play. And on that spring day, seven years ago, Carl Pavano was the final test Lee passed. Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.