ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Minor League Baseball™ announced today the selections of Tampa Bay Rays director of Minor League operations, Mitch Lukevics, and Cleveland Indians advisor to player development, Johnny Goryl, as the recipients of the fifth annual Sheldon "Chief" Bender and Mike Coolbaugh Awards, respectively. Lukevics and Goryl will be presented their awards at the Dec. 6 banquet during the Baseball Winter Meetings™
at Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn.
Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award
Mitch Lukevics, Tampa Bay Rays director of Minor League operations
The Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award is presented to someone with distinguished service who has been instrumental in player development. Bender spent 64 years in baseball as a player, manager and executive. He oversaw the Cincinnati Reds farm system for 22 years and spent a total 39 years with the club.
"Mitch Lukevics has played an integral role in developing players that have contributed to the recent successes of the Tampa Bay Rays," Minor League Baseball president, Pat O'Conner, said. "His relationships with Rays' affiliates, knowledge of the rules, and concern for his players and staff remind me so much of Chief and the legacy this award honors. Mitch's efforts have been invaluable for the Rays, who compete in one of the toughest divisions in baseball, the American League East."
"Chief Bender set the standard on how to develop young players, and was admired and respected by all of us in the industry," Lukevics said. "To receive an award bearing his name is truly an honor. This wouldn't be possible if not for the support I receive from the Rays organization, and the tremendous people that I am fortunate to work with."
Mitch has spent 38 years in professional baseball as a pitcher, coach and Minor League administrator. He has been Tampa Bay's director of Minor League operations for the past seven seasons, overseeing one of the most productive Minor League systems in baseball. The Tampa Bay farm system has continually provided high-caliber players who have played major roles in the Rays' postseason runs in three of the past five years, including a trip to the 2008 World Series.
Lukevics joined the then expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays in November 1995. During his 17 years with the club, he has also been a pitching coach (1996) and the assistant to player development and scouting (1997-2005).
Mitch was a second-round Draft pick of the Chicago White Sox in 1975, and pitched six seasons in their Minor League system. He was released as a player and hired as a coach by the White Sox on the same day in Spring Training 1981. Lukevics spent the next four seasons as a pitching coach in their system. Following the 1985 season, Mitch moved into Chicago's front office as the Minor League administrator.
After 14 years with the White Sox, Lukevics then worked from 1989 through 1995 as the director of Minor League operations for the New York Yankees.
Mitch currently serves on the Minor League Baseball Board of Trustees as the Appalachian League representative, and also sits on the Major League Baseball Farm Directors Steering Committee.
Other recipients of the Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award include Bob Gebhard (2011), Mark Newman (2010), Keith Lieppman (2009) and Jim Rantz (2008).
Mike Coolbaugh Award
Johnny Goryl, Cleveland Indians advisor to player development
The Mike Coolbaugh Award is presented to an individual who has shown an outstanding baseball work ethic, knowledge of the game and skill in mentoring young players on the field. Coolbaugh played in nearly 1,700 games in his Minor League Baseball career from 1990-2006. He also appeared in 44 Major League games. Coolbaugh was only 35 years old when he died after being hit in the neck by a line drive while coaching first base for Tulsa in a game at Arkansas on July 22, 2007.
"Johnny Goryl is a true baseball lifer and a most deserving recipient of the Mike Coolbaugh Award," O'Conner stated. "He has dedicated more than six decades to our game, mentoring and coaching several generations of players and staff using his immense knowledge, experience, passion and selflessness. Johnny's career is emblematic of Mike's goals of continuing in the game after his playing days and having an impact on future generations of players."
"As large as an organization as Minor League Baseball is, it is an absolute honor to be selected for Mike's award," Goryl said. "It was a very humbling and emotional experience for me when I heard the news, especially knowing how many other people are deserving of this honor.
"I want to accept this award on behalf of my three children, whose understanding of being without dad for all those years made, not only this career possible, but this award possible for me."
Goryl completed his 31st consecutive season in the Cleveland organization as a coach, executive, advisor or coordinator this year. Overall, he has spent 62 consecutive seasons in professional baseball, having begun his career as an infielder in the Boston Braves organization in 1951.
In his current role, Johnny is responsible for advising the Indians' vice president of player development and the field coordinator regarding all departmental operations and philosophies. He began his stint with Cleveland in 1982, serving as the Tribe's third base coach through the 1988 season.
In 1989, Goryl moved into the club's farm department as the director of Minor League operations. He also held the positions of special assistant baseball operations (1993-96), infield coach (1997-98), defensive coordinator (1999-2003) and player personnel advisor (2004-11), before assuming his current role as advisor to player development.
From 1966-80, Johnny was a manager or coach in the Minnesota Twins organization, including time on the Major League staff in 1969 and 1979-80. He then managed Minnesota for two seasons (1980-81), before joining the Cleveland organization.
Goryl played for 16 seasons in the Boston Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins organizations. He played parts of six seasons at the Major League level with the Chicago Cubs (1957-59) and Minnesota Twins (1962-64).
Previous winners of the Mike Coolbaugh Award include Mike Jirschele (2011), Woody Huyke (2010), Charlie Montoyo (2009) and Bobby Jones (2008).