By JOE McFARLAND
When Nicole Luchanski announced her retirement just before her 29th birthday in December, it might have shocked some people, but not those closest to her.
“I don’t know if I let it on somehow subconsciously,” the Edmonton native told Alberta Dugout Stories. “I haven’t actually talked to anyone who was really super-shocked.”
Her name has become synonymous with women’s baseball in this province and country for more than a decade. First named to Baseball Canada’s National Team in 2006, Luchanski helped the team win five medals at the Women’s Baseball World Cup as well as the silver medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games.
She’s also been a staple at the Baseball Alberta awards banquet as well, picking up the Bantam Girls Player of the Year in 2005 then the Open Girls honour six times (2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2017).
Thank you to everyone who helped me do some moderately crazy things in the past 24 years… let's go get a beer!!! In the words of Jake Owen: pic.twitter.com/dqcSYER0IP
— Nicole Luchanski (@Luch_5) December 19, 2018
One memory in particular sticks out most for Luchanski.
“When I first got my name called (to the National team),” she smiled. “Back in the day, they used to just hand out the medals (at the Senior Women’s Invitational), go on the field and announce names one-by-one. I never thought about anything else for so long, just trying to make that team.”
When comparing the excitement she had for the game at that point, versus where she is in life now, it made it easier in her mind to make the decision.
“When I was 16, I couldn’t wait for Christmas to be over because it meant it was the new year and a new baseball season was near,” Luchanski continued. “I mean, I love baseball, but I have so many things in my life, interests and adventures I want to do.”
She wanted to leave the game on top, and judging by the reaction, she did exactly that.
If legacy is based on how others view you, then Luchanski set the bar high.
Everyone from teammates and coaches to teachers and builders have reached out with well wishes.
Even before the announcement, The 5-foot-3, 125-pound infielder’s name was often the first to roll off the tongues of her Alberta teammates.
An amazing talent that left it all on the field! One of the most decorated women's baseball athletes for Baseball Canada and Baseball Alberta! She continues to make an impact on the girls baseball program here in Alberta. Congrats on an amazing playing career @Luch_5!! ⚾️🇨🇦👏👏👏 https://t.co/5b2rgH1Nqv
— Baseball Alberta (@BaseballAlberta) December 18, 2018
“We’ve grown up in the same environment and I just look up to her and see her being the epitome of baseball in Canada,” fellow Confederation Park product Madison Willan said.
“Just to see how much time and dedication she puts in is really, really incredible,” Red Deer’s Kelsey Lalor added recently in an interview for Alberta Dugout Stories: The Podcast.
“It makes you take a look at yourself and see what you’re doing to be able to compete and play with her.”
Luchanski admits to be emotional seeing the comments roll in on social media and through text messages.
— Marci Laevens (@mlaevens) December 18, 2018
“It blew me away,” she said. “I just didn’t think I’d hear that because we’re teammates and I always thought of them as equals. It’s just really rewarding to know I had an impact on them.”
When you think about retiring, even in a sports capacity, 29 doesn’t seem that old. But Luchanski had actually been thinking about when to step away from the game for a couple of years.
“It was just a bunch of little things all going together,” she said. “I just started wanting to do other things a lot more. I’ve always wanted to travel and do outdoor things and live in a small outdoor centre and I was always fine with pushing that to the future.”
READ MORE: Luchanski’s Redemption
While she still loves baseball, Luchanski realized that those things started to creep into her mind more and more. Ahead of this past season, she started looking at the World Cup cycle and thought this might be a good year to do it, as the next tournament wouldn’t be until 2020.
“What many people may not realize is that we don’t get paid in any way, so we all have our careers on the go,” Luchanski said. “While 29 isn’t the beginning of your career or even getting in stride, but just for having a family, I don’t know if I necessarily want to retire at 36 and just go into having kids.”
“There’s a lot I want to do between 29 and 36 and I couldn’t do it by giving 100-percent into baseball anymore.”
In her mind, now is a good time to decompress.
“I definitely want to take a break,” she laughed. “I just gave so much to the game and put so much of my mental energy every day into it, I really need a break.”
That break is exciting to Luchanski, who has been on what she calls “the straight and narrow” for her entire adult life. While she doesn’t regret a moment of it, it’s time to try some things that might have missed out on.
“My plans are to travel with my boyfriend for two months in Europe,” Luchanski said of the immediate future.
“I’ve actually resigned from my job so I won’t be going back after.”
From there, the capital region might not be the place they settle either. She’s thinking they may head “out west” to British Columbia, where there are some opportunities in the forestry industry, which is what she’s been involved in during the off-season since graduating.
DOWN THE LINE
Once Luchanski gets settled wherever the next stop might be, then maybe it will be time to don another baseball cap.
“I’d like to find a way to contribute,” Luchanski admitted. “I don’t think it will be some big coaching position but just helping grow the game wherever I am. I think I’m more of a builder than I am a coach.”
That’s what she hopes her legacy is as she steps away from baseball for a while. It has nothing to do with the number on her back, her on-field statistics or the plays she made. Luchanski wants others to build off of what she set in motion.
“I would like the legacy to be that the girls get to try, that they get the opportunity,” she beamed. “Maybe you can’t make the Bantam AAA team because you weren’t good enough but I want every girl that wants to try out, does try out.”
It wasn’t easy. Whether it was fighting for time on an actual baseball field and not on a “frickin’ soccer field” or scrounging for baseballs in the mud as they didn’t have a bag of new balls for the team, she has no regrets.
— St. Albert Tigers (@StATigers) December 19, 2018
Those moments, including playing on several men’s league teams over the years, also become teachable lessons for future generations.
“I really actually think that a rewarding legacy would be for any girl coming up to point at the record book and say ‘well a female player did this so that’s the precedent,’” Luchanski concluded.
“They may not know who I am, but they can say they are allowed to try out, allowed to be on the team, allowed to put a women’s team in the league, form their own women’s league under the Baseball Alberta umbrella, whatever the case may be.”
Such a legacy for Luchanski should come as a surprise to no one.