June 21, 2010
DeKALB, Ill. - A week after Mid-American Conference 2010 saves leader Andy Deain joined the Baltimore Orioles, two of his former pitching teammates followed suit by signing professional contracts over the weekend.
On Friday, 2009 and 2010 staff ace Chuck Lukanen became a member of the Rockford RiverHawks, who are part of the Northern League, an eight-team independent professional baseball league in its 18th season. One day later, Matt Jernstad, who was a member of the NIU rotation from 2005-08, joined the New York Yankees organization.
Since arriving at Northern Illinois in 2003, 23 players have signed professional contracts after playing for NIU head coach Ed Mathey. Of the 23 Huskies to advance to pro ball, 14 have been with Major League Baseball organizations.
Lukanen led the NIU weekend rotation for two years after his arrival from North Iowa Area Community College. In those two seasons, the lefty compiled 12 wins and 169 strikeouts, while putting together the eighth best single-season win total in school history with seven victories in 2009. The Lombard, Ill. native ranked third in the MAC this season with 82 strikeouts and ranked fourth with 97 innings pitched. The lefty also took home two MAC West Division Pitcher of the Week honors this season, upping his total to three for his career.
"Here's a kid that came into our program two years ago and absolutely worked his tail off," said Mathey. "He did a great job for us, he got his degree, and was disappointed when none of the affiliated teams came after him. But, in his first workout for an independent team, they liked him.
"A lot of kids are doing this now: Signing with independent teams and then making it to the affiliated teams. I'm ecstatic for Chuck because he has the right tools and makeup to give it a good run."
Jernstad will be with an MLB organization for the second time since leaving NIU. After signing with the Northern League's Joliet Jackhammers in July of 2008 and shortly after moving to the Frontier League's Windy City ThunderBolts to finish the season, he was signed by the Chicago White Sox this offseason but was released in March. The lefty then rejoined the ThunderBolts to post a 4-2 record with a 2.23 ERA and led the league with 43 strikeouts in 40.1 innings over six starts. The Oswego, Ill. native is the first Frontier League player to be signed by an MLB team this season.
Jernstad won 11 games in his four seasons as a Huskie and ended his career ranked fifth on NIU's all-time starts list (39), seventh in strikeouts (163) and 10th in innings pitched (228.1).
"In Matt's case, this will be his second [affiliated] team he's signed with," Mathey said. "He took the experience he had at the White Sox camp back to Windy City and did a nice job. The Yankees felt they needed some lefties in their minor league system. Hopefully he gets in there and does what he was doing with Windy City."