Former utility player Ed Lucas, left, talks transition from being on the field to coaching.
JUPITER — Ed Lucas was coming off the bench for the Triple-A Reno Aces last summer when it hit him: Thiswas probably the end. Hewas in his mid-30s, toiling in the minors and thousands of miles away from his wife and kid, so after 13 seasons as a professional baseball player it was about time to try something else.
Lucas might have been able to get a playing gig for 2017. Hemight not have. He didn’t even try. Instead, at season’s end he began reaching out to his contacts throughout baseball to see what non-playing opportunities might be available — coaching, scouting, whatever.
That included the Marlins, the team with which Lucas spent his only two major league seasons from 2013-14. The organization ended up with an opening, on the big league staff to boot. Pat Shine, the team’s administrative coach/replay coordinator, took a managing job in the Seattle Mariners’ farm system.
Lucas was a natural replacement. For years, Lucas was a utility player. Now, he’s a utility coach.
“They kind of made my dreams come true already, so I sought out the Marlins,” Lucas said. “Call No. 1.”
It’s Lucas’ first time back in the majors since the final day of the 2014 season, when the Washington Nationals’ Jordan Zimmermann no-hit the Marlins— a game best remembered, perhaps, for the last out, when Christian Yelich’s line drive to left-center turned into the final out after left fielder Steven Souza laid out for the catch.
Lucas didn’t play in that game, but he made sure to take a souvenir from it for personal reasons, not nohitter ones. He went back onto the field with a little Gatorade cup and filled it with dirt. He still has the container — covered in tape so as to not lot the specks escape— at home.
“Maybe it was a pessimistic view of my career, but I walked off the field and into the clubhouse and thought to myself, you know what? Who knows what’s going to happen this offseason?” Lucas said.
“I walked back into the clubhouse and was like, I hope this isn’t it. I hope this cup of dirt isn’t the last time I’m on the field. But it turned out to be. As a player.”
As video replay coordinator, Lucas will be the Marlins’ man down the tunnel, reviewing close plays and communicating to the dugout whether manager Don Mattingly should challenge them.
As an administrative coach, Lucas will be the staff’s version of a utility man. In addition to on-field duties like throwing batting practice and assisting infield coach Perry Hill, he’ll be working to ensure “we’re preparing like a championship team.”
“I wasn’t a very good player myself, relatively speaking,” Lucas said. “So I felt the need to do all that I could — whether it be video or numbers. I felt like I needed to be as prepared as I could be in order to be at the major league level.
“So I want to help these guys, whether it be becoming more familiar with a certain pitcher, diving into numbers they haven’t investigated before. Iwant to do as much as I can tomake sure that these guys are as prepared as possible. If they haven’t done anything like that before, maybe push them in the right direction and figure it out.”
Lucas said he hasn’t broached the subject of replacing Shine is his most famous role— that of Giancarlo Stanton’s pitcher at the Home Run Derby— but there is plenty of time until this year’s competition, at Marlins Park on July 10. Stanton, last year’s champ, is almost certain to try to defend his crown.
“I was aware of that as I came back,” said Lucas, who twoweeks into spring training has thrown about a half-dozen BP sessions. “I was like, dang, Gis going to be mad Pat Shine isn’t here anymore and I’m not going to be able to step right in there and do what he does.”
Lucas will look to continue to build that chemistry as spring rolls on. It helps that the Marlins’ Opening Day roster is set to include double-digit teammates from his playing days.
The relationship is a little different now, though.
“I can’t quite fool around like I used to,” Lucas said. “But it’s good to be back.”
Ed Lucas, above, replaced Pat Shine as a coach.