By STEVE KRAH
Jeremy Lucas wants to move up to the big leagues just like any other Triple-A baseball player.
Lucas is not like every minor leaguer in the way he involves himself with the community.
The West Terre Haute, Ind., native is known to spend hours signing autographs or visiting children in the hospital. He has done it as he’s moved up the chain in the Cleveland Indians organization and he does it as a catcher/first baseman for the International League’s Columbus Clippers.
“It’s always good for me to get a perspective and worry less about my problems,” says Lucas, who plans to get even more involved in the community as he and wife Kelsey (the couple was married in Terre Haute in December 2016 and former Indiana State University teammates were part of the wedding party) spend the off-season in Columbus.
On the field, Lucas is soaking up as much knowledge as he can while making the most of his chances as a bench player. Through games of July 20, the sixth-year professional has appeared in 16 games during the 2017 season. He appeared in four games for Columbus after 95 with Double-A Akron in 2016.
“There’s a lot to learn,” says Lucas, 26. “There’s lot of veteran guys here. I see how other guys go about their business.”
Lucas began learning the business in 2012. After earning ISU’s first Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year award in the spring of ’12, he was taken by the Indians in 12th round of that summer’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and made his first pro stop in the New York-Penn League at Mahoning Valley.
A catcher much of his baseball life, Lucas has learned to play other places on the diamond.
“Once you start moving up in levels, versatility is a big thing,” says Lucas. “When I get my opportunities, I need to take advantage of them.
“I just try to go about my work the same everyday. I catch bullpens, take BP, do whatever I can keep up with the speed of the day, which can be difficult when you’re not playing everyday.”
Even used on the mound five times this season, Lucas is 1-0 as a pitcher.
Lucas was a West Terre Haute Little League all-star prior to high school, played with various travel baseball teams including the Indiana Bulls and one summer for Terre Haute American Legion Post 346.
The 2009 West Vigo High School graduate played his prep baseball for Steve DeGroote, a 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee.
“He taught me a lot of things about the game and lot of things about life,” Lucas says of DeGroote. “He was one of the most inspirational guys I’ve had in my career along with my dad (Mike Lucas).
“It was an honor that I got to play for (Coach DeGroote). I owe a lot of what I am now.
You knew what he wanted out of his players. He treated us like men even though some of us might not have been yet.
“He taught us how to play the game right. He was all about being a good person.”
Lucas fondly recalls his final high school season and how DeGroote pushed the Vikings to an IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish with Lucas being named L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner.
“Every year he would tell us the same thing: This is the best team I’ve ever had on paper,” says Lucas. “My senior year — the best year we’ve ever had in West Vigo history — he never once said it. He was harder on us that year than any of my four years. He was hard on us. But he knew we had a special team and he wasn’t going to take it easy on us. He wasn’t going to let us get big heads.”
Lucas remembers the 2009 team showing up at the school each morning at 6:30 and working to get better even after the regular season was underway.
Mike Lucas, an accountant and lawyer in Terre Haute, has also taught work ethic to his ball-playing son.
“Nothing’s going to be given to you. You have to go out and take it,” says Jeremy of his father’s advice. “I wouldn’t be where I am today with all my dad’s done for me.
“He’s always been there for me.”
Lucas played three years of college baseball at ISU in Terre Haute. Then-Sycamores head coach Rick Heller (now head coach at the University of Iowa) taught his standout receiver about being a good teammate.
It is a lesson he practices in pro baseball, where things are very competitive at the upper levels with players fighting for playing time and the right to move up.
Lucas says it took him some time to adjust to the team dynamic in the minors.
“What I’ve learned is if you’re making your teammates better and you’re making yourself better, that’s the best of both worlds,” says Lucas. “I’ve been on teams that don’t have a lot of guys that do that and I been on teams that do
“It’s a lot more enjoyable when all the guys have the same mindset.”
The nature of Triple-A baseball is plenty of roster moves caused by injuries, trades and on-field performance. That’s given Lucas a chance to meet new faces and to begin pulling with that player.
“When guys move up or down, they just fit right in,” says Lucas. “It’s about being a good teammate and being a good guy.”
Jeremy Lucas, a 2009 West Vigo High School graduate, began his professional baseball career in 2012 and his now at Triple-A Columbus in the Cleveland Indians organization. (Columbus Clippers Photo)