REFLECTIONS ON A CHAMPIONSHIP: CHUCK LUKANEN

The lefty out of Northern Illinois University talks about his breakthrough year…

Chuck Lukanen had never been on a winning team.

That all changed in 2011 as the second year pro out of Northern Illinois University played a key role in the Joliet Slammers’ Frontier League title. He put up solid numbers out of the bullpen, finishing the season with a 4-2 record and a 3.91 ERA in 44 games. In the playoffs Lukanen was excellent, tossing three innings without surrendering a run.

Lukanen struggled in his first professional season with Rockford and Southern Illinois. A couple key adjustments helped him thrive with the Slammers.

“I think I was trying too much my rookie season, overdoing it, over thinking,” Lukanen said. “In 2011 Piggy and Bart helped me relax, settle down, control what I could control and not overstretch my boundaries.”

Lukanen delivered one of the most spectacular performances of the year on August 28th in Washington against the Wild Things. In that game he threw a season-high three innings, throwing 21 pitches, 20 for strikes. He struck out the side on nine pitches in the sixth, retired the side in order on three pitches in the seventh and struck out two more batters in the eighth.

“I didn’t even know what was going on during that outing,” Lukanen said. “I didn’t feel that great warming up, just taking it easy. I knew I was going to toss a couple innings but that was awesome. I didn’t try too much. I was just trying to hit my spots and not trying to strike everyone out. That’s what I need to build on and hopefully I’ll have more outings like that next year.”

Every championship season has a defining series and for Lukanen it was the team’s trip to Normal before the All-Star break. A rivalry had been forming between the two squads and the Slammers came out firing on all cylinders as they swept the CornBelters.

“It felt really good to go down there and beat them like we did,” Lukanen said. “That’s a tough place to play and that was the series that really got us on a roll down the stretch. Everyone was jacked up for that series and it showed in the way we played.”

Although that was the turning point in Lukanen’s eyes, he could tell this team was special right from the beginning. As someone who’d only been on losing teams, it was a pleasant change.

“When I got to Spring Training I was really impressed with the caliber of players that were there,” Lukanen said. “A lot of them I’ve seen before and had heard of. I was surprised at the amount of talent we had coming into the season.”

Lukanen and fellow pitcher Jeremy Tietze roomed together most of the year on the road and developed a bond through their hunger to improve.

“I don’t think we watched an hour of TV total on road trips all year,” Lukanen said. “We’d just sit in the room and discuss baseball. We’d talk about our previous outings and what we had to do to improve. Tietze and I really helped each other improve on the field.”

2012 can’t come soon enough for Lukanen. He’s working in a law firm during the off-season and thirsts for baseball. Lukanen doesn’t care for the 9-5 lifestyle and just wants to get back out on the field.

“I get up at 4:30 a.m. every day and just go play baseball by myself for an hour,” Lukanen said. “I throw a baseball into a net, and then I get the gym before I go to work. I just want to go on another championship run man, get myself and my teammates some exposure. We have a lot of highly talented guys on our team who could definitely play in affiliated baseball. I hope we all get a shot but even if we don’t, playing with the Slammers is a privilege, it’s an honor. I’m glad that I am getting invited back and got the opportunity to play last season and win a ring. It’s a great place to be at, it’s a great organization.”

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