Today we wish to highlight the Harmon Killebrew Award for Community Service for the Cedar Rapids Kernels, right-handed pitcher Hector Lujan.
Lujan was born and grew up in Mira Loma, California, a city just east of Anaheim. He began his college career by pitching at UC-Santa Barbara before finishing out his college years at Westmont College. The Twins use their 35th round pick in 2015 to select the hard-throwing right-hander.
He spent the remainder of that season in the GCL. Last year, he pitched in Elizabethton, though he also pitched once for Ft. Myers in an emergency outing.
This season, he spent the year in Cedar Rapids. He began the year getting some work, but as the season wore on, he got into more and more high leverage situations. By midseason, he was Tommy Watkins’ closer. In 42 games (and 54 innings), Lujan posted a 1.33 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP. He walked just eight while striking out 54. He ended the year with 17 saves and finished fourth in Twins Daily’s Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year voting.
As you can see, he was an impact player on the Kernels playoff roster this season. As important, he had a huge impact on the Cedar Rapids community as well.
Ryne George is the Kernels Community Relations Manager. He goes out with the players into the community. Here he describes one of their programs that Lujan was very active with.
“Hector has a passion for helping the community, especially when it comes to education programming for children. He helped me promote reading to over a dozen schools in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City area. Most players are shy when it comes to being in front of a gym full of kids, but not Hector. He had no problem acting out the story I read to the kids called “The Purple Kangaroo” by doing cartwheels, hula-hooping, and dancing all while wearing a kangaroo suit!”
The reading program was definitely something that Hector Lujan enjoyed participating in and supporting. He said, “The summer reading program involved me playing a skit in a kangaroo costume, following along with a book that someone else would read. I was pretty much trying to find a monkey called Ernesto. So the skit was me just doing movements like with what the book was saying. You know kids would get a laugh out of it, and they seem to just have fun seeing me do the dab, the hula hoop, and kind of just playing along, holding a sign that said ‘Where is Ernesto?’ and it seemed all the kids would engage in those events.”
But Lujan did much more than dress like a kangaroo to make kids and adults alike happy around Cedar Rapids. He added, “Other events involved going to an elderly home playing bingo and also going to children's with special needs center to spend sometime with them by playing catch or even just talking about baseball.”
According to Ryne George, Lujan helped launch the Kernels “Catch with a Cop” youth program.
Lujan noted, “That was pretty cool to see kids getting involved with baseball players and police officers.”
Lujan found out last week that he had been recognized for all of his hard work in the community as the Kernels Harmon Killebrew Award recipient. He was excited and humbled by the award.
“It's an honor to receive an award named after Hall of Famer, Harmon Killebrew. It is also an honor to be a part of an organization that has such an impact on their community. I can only hope that throughout my baseball career and life, I can leave a mark on the community as he did. I want to be known as someone that gave all I had, both on and off the field.”
Asked why it was important for him to give back in the communities in which he lives and work, Lujan recently told Twins Daily that there were several reasons.
- “I think it's important to give back to communities and kids just because it means a lot to kids knowing that there are others out there that enjoy spending time with them and are willing to make them feel special even if it's just a small gesture of playing catch or even just talking to them.”
- “Growing up,I would always appreciate people that would take the time to spend their time with me and show me new things and talk about my baseball or other things - whether it's baseball or not - just the fact that having someone there to listen to you when you share your ideas or even having someone to play with can mean a lot.”
- “Another big thing was having my mom work for an elementary school and having older kids come in and spend some time with us back when I was in elementary school. I always thought that was you cool! I just feel it’s always good to give back too because you never know how you can impact someone's life by words of motivation you give them even if it's an adult or a young kid.”
While there were a lot of deserving Kernels players this year who served their community well, Lujan was the right choice.
According to Ryne George, “The Minnesota Twins are very lucky to have a person like Hector Lujan in their organization, both as a player and as a person. Hector has a passion for helping the community, especially when it comes to education programming for children,” He continued. “I would like to thank Hector on behalf of the Cedar Rapids Kernels organization for his time and dedication to our community!”
The 2017 Killebrew Award Winners
Cedar Rapids Kernels: Hector Lujan
Ft. Myers Miracle: Kevin Garcia
Rochester Red Wings:
*all photos courtesy of the Cedar Rapids Kernels