In reality, it was a moment that the Secaucus native, now pitching for the Anaheim Angels, had envisioned thousands of times ever since he was a little boy rooting for the Yankees.
"It was a weird feeling," Lukasiewicz said last Sunday, sitting in the visiting team's dugout in Yankee Stadium. "I thought, 'I've played this scenario out so many times over the last 15 years.' I mean, it was always my dream to pitch in Yankee Stadium. I thought of that moment my whole life. I was really excited to be out there, but I knew I had a job to do."
Lukasiewicz certainly did, and a pressure-packed job at that. He was being called upon to fulfill his role as a left-handed situational relief pitcher, getting called upon in the bottom of the eighth inning, with the game on the line and one tough left-handed batter to face. This time, it was Yankee slugger Paul O'Neill standing in the batter's box, awaiting the best that Lukasiewicz could offer.
The 6-foot-6 Secaucus High School grad (Class of 1991) couldn't get caught up in the moment, that he was actually pitching in a game against the team he adored as a kid growing up in Secaucus. The game was hanging in the balance. Two runners were on base and the Angels were trailing, 4-2. Lukasiewicz was summoned to get O'Neill out, somehow, someway.
"I really never enjoyed the moment that much," Lukasiewicz said. "It was there and gone so fast."
Because on the second pitch Lukasiewicz threw to O'Neill, the Yankee right fielder hit a lazy pop up to right field that Angels' outfielder Tim Salmon secured gently. That was all Lukasiewicz needed to do. Get O'Neill out and head to the showers.
Such is the life of a major league situational reliever. And it's a life that the 28-year-old Lukasiewicz will gladly accept right now.
"This is all really unbelievable," Lukasiewicz said. "I'm living a dream right now. Any kid who grew up in this area dreams of pitching in Yankee Stadium. Well, my dream came true. I'm living out my dream."
Albeit two pitches and one batter. Lukasiewicz will take it, considering all he's been through just to become a 28-year-old rookie.
Drafted by Blue Jays
Ever since he was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the first round of the 1993 major league baseball draft, Mark Lukasiewicz was destined for baseball stardom. The Blue Jays envisioned the massive hurler as a starting pitcher, a staple of their future.
However, that never happened. For the better part of eight seasons, Lukasiewicz bounced around the minor leagues, including an agonizing four years with Class AAA Syracuse - just one step away from the big leagues. The Blue Jays turned Lukasiewicz from a starting pitcher into a closer, then a situational reliever, then a starter again. He really never developed a defined role with the Blue Jays organization and wondered what direction his baseball career was headed in.
"I think they [the Blue Jays] had a lot of expectations for me, but I never had a clear answer as to what they wanted from me," Lukasiewicz said. "When I was put into the bullpen, I really felt comfortable. But they never told me anything concrete. They would only tell me to try to be consistent and to throw strikes. But they had veteran guys in Toronto, guys who were established in the big leagues. I thought I was doing a good job, but being in the minor leagues for three years, you start to doubt your ability."
Lukasiewicz spent his fourth year at Class AAA Syracuse last season and really started to think about his future. "I always knew I had the talent to pitch in the big leagues, but I never got the chance," Lukasiewicz said. "I was just as good as a lot of pitchers in the big leagues. I just continued to stay focused and I knew I couldn't give up. I knew that in this business, you can be a superstar one day and finished the next. It was all about timing."
Added Lukasiewicz, "It never came to a point where I really thought about leaving, but the thought did come to my mind, like how long can I keep doing this? I had enough of the minor leagues. I wanted the chance. I thought that if I stayed positive and worked hard, I would get the opportunity."
At the end of the 2000 season, Lukasiewicz was eligible to become a free agent, after spending six years with the same organization, without receiving a call up to the major leagues. However, for some reason, the Blue Jays placed Lukasiewicz on their 40-man protected roster, then two days later, took him off.
During that time, the Anaheim Angels acted fast and claimed Lukasiewicz on waivers. He had a new organization, a new life.
"They told me that they were bringing me to the big league camp in the spring," Lukasiewicz said. "I had been with the Blue Jays for so long that I figured this was a big break for me. I knew I wasn't going anywhere with the Blue Jays. I needed to have a shot with a different team."
Back and forth
Lukasiewicz went to spring training last March with the Angels, armed with his new lease on his baseball life. "I pitched real well in spring training, but I was the last cut," Lukasiewicz said.
It was back to the minors, this time in Salt Lake City, away from his fiancee, who was living in Syracuse.
"I was disappointed," Lukasiewicz said. "I thought I did well enough to make the team. I went to Salt Lake City and figured I would get the call sooner or later."
Lukasiewicz thought he had finally received the call in May, when the Angels recalled him from Salt Lake City. However, his stint in the majors lasted one whole weekend.
"I was here on Friday and gone by Sunday," Lukasiewicz said. "I never even threw a pitch."
However, the return trip to the minors didn't last long, as Lukasiewicz was called back to the Angels in June, where he has remained ever since.
His first appearance for the Angels wasn't a memorable one. He gave up a home run to Bobby Higginson of the Detroit Tigers to lose the game by a single run.
"The whole day [beforehand], I was walking around in the clouds," Lukasiewicz said. "Then, I'm in my first big league game and I give up a walk-off homer. It happened so quick, but it wasn't the way I wanted to start my career. I learned a lot from it."
Since his debut, Lukasiewicz has pitched in 17 games for the Angels, posting an 0-2 record with a 6.19 earned run average and 18 strikeouts. His job is simple - get out the left-handed batters he is called upon to face, like O'Neill last Friday night. He had a tough outing against the Texas Rangers, surrendering seven earned runs in an inning and a third. Take away that outing and "Big Luke" has a more respectable ERA of 3.27.
"I've had about 10 good outings since then," Lukasiewicz said. "I really feel comfortable with my role. It's definitely part of my mentality now, being a reliever. I want to know how I'm pitching, know right away with the results. I think being a reliever fits the kind of pitcher I am."
Added Lukasiewicz, "It's been a great year. The Angels have been great, giving me this opportunity. And coming home has been unbelievable."
The Lukasiewicz family came in full force to Yankee Stadium over the weekend, to see their native son pitch for the first time in the big leagues, even if it was only two pitches. Lukasiewicz left at least 20 tickets for each of the four-game series. There were plenty of other familiar faces greeting him in the stands.
"I've seen people this weekend that I haven't seen in a while," said Lukasiewicz, who hasn't pitched anywhere close to home (other than Syracuse) in his nine-year professional career. "It's been an amazing homecoming."
After the game Sunday, Lukasiewicz returned to his parents' home in Secaucus, where his mother was preparing a big homecoming dinner for their famous son.
"Growing up in Secaucus, through my years in Little League, through Babe Ruth and high school, there were so many great people who supported me," Lukasiewicz said. "That they're still there backing me shows me who my true friends are. I feel so fortunate that I stuck with it, because this game, especially in the minor leagues, can eat you up mentally. It's a test of character. But it really shows that if you want something bad enough and you love the game, good things can happen. You just have to remain positive."
Added Lukasiewicz, "It's all about timing. Some guys get their break earlier. I got my break at 28. It's the way the game is. When you get the opportunity, you have to take advantage of it."
Although Lukasiewicz said that he is in the process of purchasing a home in Syracuse, where he will reside after he gets married later this year, he said that he would never forget his roots.
"I tell you what," Lukasiewicz said. "I miss the days when I played in Secaucus Little League. It was a lot of fun growing up in Secaucus, playing in high school. I had a great time. Coming from a small town and getting a chance to make it. I guess Jeff [Bittiger, who pitched for four major league teams] being the first gave me the inspiration that I could do it too. I hope that I'm able to give inspiration to kids in Secaucus as well."
On perseverance alone, Mark Lukasiewicz serves as a motivation for anyone who has dared to dream. He lived out his dream last weekend. Not many can say that.