Denfeld News

Feb. 14, 2009
Duluth News Tribune

Duluth's Jukich invited to Reds camp
By Jon Nowacki

Chris Bosio was just called up from Class AAA in August 1986 when he walked into the office of Milwaukee Brewers manager George Bamberger.

“Mr. Bamberger, I’m here to pitch,” Bosio said.

“I know you are,” Bamberger replied. “You’re starting tomorrow.”

Never mind that Bosio was a reliever and hadn’t pitched more than two innings that summer. When you get to the big leagues, you do whatever they tell you.

Duluth native Ben Jukich has heard that story before from Bosio, his former pitching coach, and the 6-foot-4 left-hander appears willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing Major League Baseball. Today, the 26-year-old reports to spring training in Sarasota, Fla., with the Cincinnati Reds .

This is the third spring training for Jukich, but the first time he has been invited to a big-league camp.

“I feel great about the position I’m in,” Jukich said. “This is what I was hoping for after the end of the last season. It’s always nice to get that news, but I’m not there yet. I’m a nonroster invite. I’m not on the 40-man [roster]. I’m not on the 25-man. I’ve calmed down since then knowing that there is still work to do.”

Jukich has come a long way since he was a lanky standout on the hill for Duluth Denfeld. He bounced around after high school before starring at Dakota Wesleyan in Mitchell, S.D., leading the NAIA in strikeouts and attracting the attention of pro scouts.

The Oakland A’s drafted him in the 13th round of the 2006 draft before trading him to the Reds the following year.

Last summer Jukich went 8-4 with a 3.57 ERA with Class AA Chattanooga before being called up to Class AAA Louisville. Bosio, who earned 94 victories in 11 major-league seasons and threw a no-hitter for Seattle in 1993, was Chattanooga’s pitching coach last summer and worked a great deal with Jukich.

With a fastball in the high 80s, Jukich isn’t overpowering but is adept at throwing strikes and logging innings. On top of that, he led the Southern League in pickoffs. Bosio said Jukich is in the mold of Bosio’s former teammates Dan Plesac and Jamie Moyer, guys who “made a lot of money and won a lot of games pitching under the radar with control.”

“Ben has a knack for being able to throw any pitch at any time, and that’s a sign of a good major-league pitcher,” Bosio said. “You can’t be afraid when you’re pitching, and Ben follows that rule. Ben is one of the better pitchers I’ve had the pleasure to work with.”

Jukich had mixed results in his brief stint with Louisville last summer. He lived this past offseason in the Boston area with his fiancee, Ashley Lawreck, whom he met at a national junior curling tournament. Jukich worked out all offseason at a baseball facility near his residence.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Jukich said. “I have an opportunity to make a good impression on a new general manager [Minnesota native Walt Jocketty], but I also have a chance to hurt myself if I go in unprepared.”

Jukich said he will likely start the season in Class AAA.

Bosio is confident his former pupil will eventually get the call he has waited his whole life for.

“All Ben has to do is throw strikes and change speeds, and there is always a spot for a left-handed pitcher, especially a long, lanky guy with a rubber arm and good pickoff move,” Bosio said.

“Ben will get his opportunity, and everybody up in that town where you guys are at is going to go, ‘You know what, I remember when.’ ”

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