Alumni Profile: John Lucenta
This summer hundreds of medals will be awarded at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Did you know Lewis has their own gold-medal winner? John Lucenta ’68 (Business Administration) was a pitcher for the Lewis baseball team from 1964-1968, an NAIA All-American in 1966 and was part of the 1968 United States baseball team that participated in the Mexico City Olympics. Baseball was still an exhibition sport in the Olympics at that time, but medals were awarded, and John helped Team USA win the gold with a 2-1 victory over Cuba. The game featured a riot that was triggered when a fan continued to heckle one of the Cuban players. The Cuban player, and his teammates, rushed into the stands to confront the heckler and a roit ensued. As a result of the riot, the team had to be awarded their gold medals at the hotel.
John played high school baseball for Joliet Catholic and was recruited by legendary Lewis baseball manager Gordie Gillespie to pitch for the Flyers. John is fourth on the Flyers' all-time wins list with 32 victories. He was inducted to the Lewis University Hall of Fame in 1981. John attributes much of his success in baseball to the guidance and commitment of Gillespie.
"Gordie really stressed fundamentals, but his character and passion for the game truly defined him," John said. "You really wanted to emulate him and give everything you had out on the field for him.”
After his time at Lewis and the 1968 Olympics, John pitched for the Midlothian White Sox, a semi-pro baseball team, for 21 seasons. During that time, John was selected to be part of a college/semi-pro all-star team, managed by coach Gillespie, that faced the 1984 Olympic baseball team in an exhibition game at Comiskey Park in July of 1984. One of the batters John faced was controversial baseball star Mark McGwire. It wasn't until years later, when he and his wife watched a recording of the game, that he realized he pitched against one of the biggest stars in Major League Baseball.
"I'm one of the few pitchers to say 'I pitched to Mark McGwire and he didn't hit it out on me,'" John said.
John’s baseball career was almost cut short due to an accident that severely injured his left arm while vacationing in Mexico in 1977.
“After the first four operations, the doctors wanted to cut it off,” Lucenta said. “But one doctor had patience enough to stay with it and save it, 15 surgeries later, it’s still there.”
John missed the entire 1977 season and when he returned to play in 1978, he had to make adjustments when catching the ball because he had yet to regain a full range of motion in his left hand.
“The first year back, when the catcher would throw the ball back to me, I would bring my right hand over to assist my left hand in catching the ball because the strength just wasn’t there yet,” John said. “Fortunately, since I was a pitcher, we had the designated hitter rule, so I didn’t have to bat.”
John's love for the game of baseball has not diminished one bit. He still pitches in the Roy Hobbs World Series, an adult amateur recreation baseball league, and has no plans on slowing down.