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On and off field, Lucroy makes a difference

All-Star catcher embracing return to southern roots in Texas @Sullivan_Ranger

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- John Coker was Jonathan Lucroy's roommate and best friend while playing baseball at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Lucroy, an All-American catcher at ULL, was drafted by the Brewers, while Coker joined the Oklahoma National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- John Coker was Jonathan Lucroy's roommate and best friend while playing baseball at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Lucroy, an All-American catcher at ULL, was drafted by the Brewers, while Coker joined the Oklahoma National Guard and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011.

One day in September 2011, Coker was manning a machine gun when his team was attacked. As Coker related the story to The Acadiana Advocate, three soldiers were killed and two, including Coker, were severely wounded. He was shot in both legs and pelvis, and almost bled to death before being rescued.

Lucroy, playing for the Brewers, was deeply moved when he heard about it.

"Having that happen to him really opened up my eyes about the military," Lucroy said Monday at the Rangers' training complex. "Those guys are dying over there and a lot of people don't care. I know I was one of them. I was blind to what was going on over there."

Lucroy is blind no more. He took an active role in Coker's recovery and became deeply involved with American veterans.

Lucroy was active at Fisher House Wisconsin, a facility for veterans and their families getting treatment at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee. He provides scholarships for military families and participated in a program to fly World War II and Korean War veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit their respective memorials.

Tweet from @JLucroy20: #TBT to @SSHonorFlight in 2015! #VeteransDay #merica

The Brewers nominated him for the Roberto Clemente Award, and he was the guest of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) at President Obama's State of the Union Address in 2014.

"It was really cool and a great honor to be a part of it," Lucroy said.

His service to American veterans is only a part of what Lucroy, a devout Christian, does in the community. He is involved in the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Miracle League and Open Arms Home, an orphanage for abandoned and disadvantaged children in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

Last August, flood waters ravaging through Lafayette and Southern Louisiana destroyed the home of ULL assistant baseball coach Anthony Babineaux. Lucroy and his wife, Sarah, let the Babineaux family stay in their offseason home until theirs could be rebuilt.

"I didn't want them living in a small apartment for eight months or however long it would take to fix the house," Lucroy said. "I know them and trust them, they are good people. I can't imagine what it's like to lose your house."

When Rangers reliever Jeremy Jeffress was going through alcohol rehabilitation in September, Lucroy stayed in touch as much as possible. The two grew up in the Brewers' organization together.

"It meant a lot to me," Jeffress said. "He is a great guy and a family man ... a beautiful wife and daughter [Ellia, 6]. He means well. He cares about people on and off the field."

Video: Lucroy excited for first Spring Training with Rangers

That's part of who Lucroy is, beyond his accomplishments on the baseball field as an All-Star catcher. It is why he is proud to play for Team USA this spring in the World Baseball Classic.

"I care," Lucroy said. "I know that's easy for me to say, but I try to live that too. We are given a platform as Christians. I try to use that to help others and lift others up. That's what I believe and what I try to do."

Lucroy learned that from his parents, Steven and Karen Lucroy, growing up with two younger brothers, David and Matthew, in the central Florida town of Umatilla.

"I grew up trying to help others," Lucroy said. "My mom and dad used to sponsor a family at Christmas and help them buy Christmas presents because they couldn't afford it. Little stuff like that. My parents are real big givers, and I've always been like that. I've tried to be a giver rather than a taker as much as I can."

Umatilla is a blue-collar town of 2,500 in an agricultural region of farms and orange groves. Steven worked laying down fertilizer on golf courses all over the state while Karen stayed at home raising three baseball-addicted boys.

"My dad used to get up at 2 in the morning," Lucroy said. "We saw that as kids. He used to get up in the middle of the night, drive where he had to drive, come back and he would be asleep when we got home. He didn't want to miss time with us."

Steven Lucroy was a star third baseman at Umatilla who tried out for the Cardinals and had a chance at a college baseball scholarship. Instead, he remained in Florida to raise his family, and his ethic runs deep. Matthew is a fireman in Florida, and David is a pitcher in the Brewers' organization. Jonathan and David are staying together this spring.

"We grew up watching our dad work his tail off to give us a good life and take us around to play baseball all over the country," Lucroy said. "That's what I want to be. I want to be a hard worker for my family. I am lucky I'm playing baseball, but it didn't matter what I was doing, I would still be a hard worker. Family is huge to me."

Video: Lucroy talks motivating players to play for Team USA

It's was at his dad's suggestion that Lucroy became a catcher, and he was a star at Umatilla High. But it was by playing for the prestigious Orlando Scorpions travel team that he became recognized as one of the best catchers in Florida.

The state's Division I schools weren't paying attention. Lucroy had interest only from small schools until ULL assistant coach John Szefc watched him play in a tournament. Szefc saw something nobody else did and offered Lucroy a scholarship. ULL was the only Division I school to do so and one year later, Lucroy was a freshman All-American.

"It was great to prove to myself that I was good at this game," Lucroy said. "I kind of took off from there."

Lucroy met Sarah at ULL, and he remains close with legendary head coach Tony Robichaux, who also influenced Lucroy deeply because of his caring attitude.

The down-home flavor of southern Louisiana proved to be a perfect match for the country boy from central Florida who loves to be outdoors, whether hunting, fishing, digging up million-year-old dinosaur bones or taking his daughter for a walk in the woods.

Lucroy's central-Florida and southern-Louisiana roots also explain why he's a seemingly perfect fit in Texas, and why he rejoiced when the Rangers acquired him last summer.

"First and foremost is the people," Lucroy said. "I grew up in the South, I can relate to people in the South. I enjoy everything from the weather to the atmosphere … the biggest thing was the players and the staff. I heard nothing but great things about Adrian Beltre, [manager] Jeff Banister.

"I am really grateful to be here. I really enjoy it. It's all about the people and the atmosphere in the clubhouse. It's really easy to just go out and play."

Lucroy is all about people, whether it is family, teammates, close friends, American veterans or orphans on the other side of the world. He carries it daily in his life, both with the Rangers and beyond the baseball field.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

Texas Rangers, Jonathan Lucroy