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No rest for Rays' Lukevics

No rest for Rays' Lukevics

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Mitch Lukevics probably could've gone to the World Series this season. With names such as Jim Leyland, Tony La Russa, Chuck Hernandez and Walt Jocketty on his list of acquaintances, it probably wouldn't have been hard to get tickets. But Lukevics just can't find the time to go.

Lukevics is the Rays' farm director, so this is his offseason, right?

Wrong. If anything, he said, this time of year is even busier.

Lukevics, who wrapped up Tampa Bay's instructional league earlier this month, sent his players home to an offseason filled with relaxation. He then returned to his office at Tropicana Field, and a to-do list already spilling over with demands.

•  Track players' progressions through the Arizona Fall League and various Winter Leagues.

•  Interview and assemble a staff.

•  Prepare for six-year free agency talks, which begin Oct. 22.

•  When the season begins, visit each of the full-season teams three times and the short-season teams twice.

Lukevics admits the only offseason he has falls on Thanksgiving and Christmas. After 32 years in professional baseball, though, it doesn't bother him a bit. It's even better, he said, with a Major League manager like Joe Maddon spearheading the cause of the importance of Lukevics' role with the Rays organization.

"[Maddon] just re-emphasizes what we've done in the past all along, and continues to stress [fundamentals]," Lukevics said. "It's absolutely great. Joe knows what we do on the farm because he's done it a long time as well. I think he and our entire Major League staff have an appreciation for what we go through on a daily basis."

What Lukevics' job entails varies on a case-by-case basis. Pitcher Wade Townsend, the eighth overall pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, underwent Tommy John surgery in the fall of 2005 and needed a workout program and a few innings on the mound during the recently completed instructional league to test how his arm had healed. Lukevics and his staff also worked one-on-one with players to strengthen their weaknesses and help solidify their individual skills.

If things go well, Lukevics will see the results of the work he's done during the next full season, so there's no immediate gratification.

But, he said, it's all part of the job.

"It's like going to the doctor and trying to help the player get better in a progression, to where they feel comfortable with what they're doing and then can execute it properly in the game," he said. "The development of a young player is a journey and not a sprint."

And what brought Lukevics from Minor League player out of Penn State University in the 1960s to Rays farm coordinator was an interesting journey indeed, filled with several little breaks and a lot of big names.

By the time men like former Major Leaguer-turned-White Sox announcer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson and current Detroit Tigers president, CEO and general manager David Dombrowski left Chicago's front office, Lukevics had already put in 11 years with the organization and jumped at the chance to be on the other side of the fence.

"David actually released me as a player and offered me a Minor League coaching position [as a pitching coach] in the same conversation; it was pretty neat," Lukevics said.

Lukevics said he still talks with Dombrowski "on a rare occasion," and chuckled when asked if he'd called the Tigers GM for World Series tickets this year.

"There isn't enough time in one day for a farm director to do all the things that need to be done [and still be able to go]," he said.

Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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