New York Mets pitcher Joey Lucchesi has turned his season around with a 1.58 ERA in his last four starts. But according to a close family member, being the under dog is a role he has embraced throughout his whole life.
"You aren't good enough (to reach the majors)," is what he was often told growing up. But Lucchesi didn't care, he is used to being overlooked, and used it as motivation, per his mother Michelle.
“I’m so proud of him because he has had to fight for everything he has today," his mother, Michelle Lucchesi told Inside the Mets in a phone interview. "He was always the underdog and he worked really hard and kept fighting."
The left-hander wasn't highly scouted out of high school either. In fact, it was actually his teammate and good friend in fellow pitcher and former Met Chris Flexen, who received all the attention as the star at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, California.
Having no idea what he wanted to do after high school, Lucchesi weighed his options following graduation. And once his mind was made up, he landed on the only thing he ever really enjoyed doing, and that was playing baseball.
Lucchesi walked on at a local Junior College by the name of Chabot College in Hayward, California, which is located 11 miles from his hometown of Newark, CA.
From there, Lucchesi began to improve, which led to him transferring to a four-year institute 2,100 miles away from home in Southeast Missouri State University.
“I think it was the best thing for him because he grew up really quick being on his own for the first time," she said. "They were really good to him there and that’s where he took off and started to shine.”
And shine he did, as the southpaw did indeed grow up both on-and-off the mound at Southeast Missouri U., capturing back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year Awards from 2015-16.
According to his mother, Lucchesi was disappointed when he went un-drafted after his Junior year, but it ultimately fueled him into having a stellar senior campaign, which resulted in the San Diego Padres scooping him up in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB draft.
“It was so exciting; I could not believe it," she said when recalling the emotions on draft day. "I just had flashbacks of when he was a little kid in little league. I remember people used to laugh at him because he always said he wanted to be a baseball player when he grew up. Now, here he is today doing what he loves.”
“Everyone would always say ‘you’re never going to make it’ because he didn’t have all the tools," she said. "He didn’t do a lot of showcases or anything else, he had to prove himself.”
After spending five years in the Padres organization, Lucchesi's whole world was flipped upside down last offseason when the only team he had ever known in his professional career sent him packing to the New York Mets via trade.
“It’s been tough because San Diego was all we knew," she said. "Coming over to New York was hard because it is a different environment. I think he is trying to prove himself and he is doing a good job of that.”
“The pitching coach (Jeremy Hefner) and his teammates have been helping him get acclimated," she added. "This team is very family oriented. They’ve been very encouraging to him.”
After a poor start where he produced a 9.19 ERA, Lucchesi added a changeup to his repertoire and made some mechanical adjustments, as well. He has since bounced back to record a 1.58 ERA and 19 strikeouts across his last four starts.
His mother believes his pitching coach Jeremy Hefner and catcher James McCann have played a huge role in helping him re-discover himself.
“The pitching coach (Jeremy Hefner) and James McCann have really helped him make tweaks and it has been helping," she said.
“I knew he could do it, he just needed to find himself again," she added. "He’s had some struggles early on, but I think he is coming around.”
Another huge advocate to Lucchesi's success has been his father, who records each of his starts and provides advice in between, where they discuss potential mechanical adjustments. They also speak about topics surrounding what might be working for the lefty, versus what might not be working.
Lucchesi's father didn't play baseball. In fact, he was an avid football fan until his son started playing baseball. This got him into it, and he and his son have been talking before-and-after every start, ever since.
His father has been his biggest influence," she said. "He has always taught him that ‘As long as you work hard and give it your all, good things can happen from that. Don’t let the underdog status get to you.’ He’s always been overlooked constantly, but I think he has persevered from that and works harder because of it."
Unfortunately, Lucchesi's parents are located in the Bay Area, so they have not yet been able to make it out to any of his starts with the Mets.
But with Covid restrictions loosening up, they hope to plan a trip out to New York sometime in the near future to watch him pitch up close and personal.
Lucchesi is definitely making mom and dad proud given the way he has been pulling his weight lately in the best rotation in baseball.