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 December 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 that have played major roles in the Rays’ post-season 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).