July 21, 2010
DeKALB, Ill. - Since moving on from their playing days on the Northern Illinois baseball team, Andy Deain (2006-08, 2010), Jordin Hood (2007-10), and Joe Mazzuca (2003) have been doing quite well as they continue to play the sport they love.
Each of the three former Huskies has taken a different path in pursuing their dream of playing baseball for a living but all three have one thing in common: They all played under nine-year NIU head coach Ed Mathey, who has tutored 24 players into professional baseball since 2003, 14 of which have been with Major League Baseball clubs.
For Deain, he was undrafted in June's MLB Amateur Draft but found his way into the Baltimore Orioles organization on June 14th. What did the Orioles see in the Crystal Lake, Ill., native? A portfolio that includes an NIU and Mid-American Conference career-best 128 appearances. A right-handed reliever who has 23 career saves, good for second at NIU and eighth in the MAC, and 17 wins, which are the fourth highest total in program history. Additionally, he has 156 strikeouts under his belt, the ninth-best total at NIU, and was a 2008 second team All-MAC selection.
The Orioles immediately started Deain in the Gulf Coast League for an extended spring training in Sarasota, Fla., home of Baltimore's spring training facility. It only took him seven appearances to earn a promotion. In 10.1 innings, Deain posted a 2.61 ERA and one save, allowing only three earned runs, three walks, and seven hits. Even more impressive were his 14 strikeouts, earning him a spot on the Bluefield Orioles, Baltimore's Rookie affiliate in the Appalachian League, on Tuesday.
"Andy's job is to be a pro out of the bullpen," said Mathey. "[Baltimore] felt his stuff was good enough to move up. They saw his work ethic and approach and moved him. The few innings he put together and the results he had were enough to get a promotion and I know he was excited to get the promotion in such a short time. It's exciting for all of us."
Similar to Deain, Hood, a two-time All-MAC outfielder/infielder, was also undrafted and found his way into professional baseball, marking the third player from the 2010 Huskies to go pro. On July 16th, the Hawthorn Woods, Ill., native inked a deal with the Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League, an independent baseball league. Through five games, NIU's second all-time home run (34) and hit (262) leader has one homer and three RBI for the Miners.
"I'm very, very happy for Jordin," Mathey said. "He was a kid who came into our program undrafted out of high school, got on field right away as freshman, and did all the right things athletically, academically, and socially. I know he was disappointed that he was not drafted but getting a chance to prove himself is one of his dreams. I am very happy for him and know he will represent Northern Illinois University very well in the professional world."
Hood is not alone on the Southern Illinois roster as two-year teammate Chuck Lukanen (2009-10) recently left the Rockford RiverHawks to join the Miners. As a Huskie left-handed hurler, the Lombard, Ill., native registered 169 strikeouts and 12 wins, including the eighth-best single season win total (7) in program history in 2009.
"Chuck had his start with Rockford and it didn't work out," said Mathey. "He's a hard working guy. While I was talking to the folks at Southern about Jordin, they were also looking for a lefty and we told them to keep an eye on Chuck. As soon as they saw he was cut by Rockford, they went after him. It will be great for those two to be on the same team. It's a good organization and they will have a wonderful time down there. Hopefully they can win the championship."
Mazzuca, Mathey's first pro signee at NIU, was drafted in the 12th round by the Florida Marlins in 2003 but has since been playing professionally in Italy for the last four years. In his only season at NIU, the talented infielder made the All-MAC Tournament team and his 57 RBI on the season rank second in Huskie single season history.
Currently, Mazzuca's Fortitudo Unipol Banca Bologna team is in third place and has clinched a playoff spot. As the No. 3 hitter, he is leading the squad in extra base hits. The Maywood, Ill., native has also been selected to play for Italy's National Team for the fifth time.
"It's good to see that Joe can still go out and play," said Mathey. "He was a very good player in his short time at NIU. A few years ago, he had the chance to play in Italy and he's had a wonderful experience. It's a real good time for him to be out in the world playing like he is. We are very happy for him, too."
As NIU's all-time wins leader (210-203-1) is preparing for the 2011 season and beyond, Mathey truly enjoys hearing from his former players about their success following their Huskie careers.
"It's always great to hear from your former players, it really is," said Mathey. "With what has been going on with the guys and the fact that we have guys staying in pro ball and moving up, it's a testament to what we are doing here at Northern. We are getting them ready for the next level and it's a positive story for us. It's a good thing for any Huskies in the future to know that we have guys out [in the pros] doing well."