Published DateLACONIA — Luke Demko, now in his second year as pitching coach for the Laconia Muskrats, says that he tells the young pitchers that he is working with that the most important thing they can do is throw strikes.
''A first pitch strike is the most important pitch you can throw. And you have to have confidence in all your pitches, so that you can throw any one of them for a strike,'' says Demko, who says that something seems to be working as the Muskrats pitchers have racked up more strikeouts than any other team in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
They've also hit more batters than any other pitching staff, which Demko says is in part because of the Muskrats' pitching style.
''We pitch inside a lot so we can use the whole plate,'' says Demko, who says that he spends a lot of time working with the pitching staff on control and how to use their bodies to get the smooth, fluid motion they need to succeed on the mound.
''Our guys are on a pitch count. We want to keep them healthy so that when they return to their college programs they're ready and not worn out.'' he says.
Demko is no stranger to the collegiate league, having pitched two summers for the Sanford Mainers while he was in college.
The former three-sports star at Gilford High School recently got the good news that as of this fall he will be the pitching coach for the University of Rhode Island, where he holds the URI single-season save record with 11.
Demko set that record in 2009 when he struck out 44 hitters in 33 innings for URI, following a year in which he had struck out 55 in 43 innings while walking only seven hitters.
For the last two years Demko has been the pitching coach at Fort Scott Community College in Fort Scott, Kans., and says he's pleased to be back at his alma mater.
''It's exciting. URI is a Division I team that has made it to the college tournament 12 years in a row,'' says Demko. whose ambition is to someday be the head coach of an elite college baseball program like that at Vanderbillt, which contends annually for the college baseball crown.
Demko says that he's enjoying his summer in the Lakes Region, where he gets to see family and friends. His dad, Alan, is a member of the Gilford School Board and former business administrator for the Winnisquam Regional School District.
The 2004 Gilford graduate turned in a 21-4 record with a 1.21 earned run average over his career at Gilford High School, where he was a two-time Class M First Team All-State selection. He threw a perfect game as a senior against Winnisquam Regional High School and hold Gilford's all time strikeout record (366). He was was named team MVP as a sophomore, junior and senior and also was a two-time All-State basketball and soccer player and helped the Golden Eagles basketball team to the Class M title his senior year.
Demko credits his high school baseball coach, John Lord, with teaching him how to pitch. ''He taught me to be patient and how to keep in shape and improve my game.''
An imposing 6 feet 6 inches and weighing 260 pounds, Demko's fastball topped out at 97 miles per hour in college, where he averaged 90-93 miles and hour and had a K-rating of 98 according to the Baseball Cub's statistics analysis.
In 2009 he was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 29th round and was ready to board an airplane which would take him from Arizona to Oregon to start his pro baseball career for the Giants Single-A affiliate there when he got word that a mandatory MRI showed a small tear in his throwing elbow.
The Giants were concerned enough that they decided not to sign him, even though Demko felt no pain in his elbow. He ended up pitching that year for the Newark Bears of the independent Atlantic League, where former Red Sox pitchers Keith Foulke and Ramiro Mendoza and outfielder Carl Everett were playing.
''It was quite an experience. Foulke showed me how he threw his change-up. There were other guys there like Scott Wiliamson, who once closed for the Red Sox, and Armando Benitez, an 11-time All Star. They treated me really well, took me out to dinner with them, and taught me a lot. It was a lot of fun and those guys were real helpful,'' says Demko.
He made 14 appearances for Newark that year, striking out 25 in 31.1 innings and made one start in which he allowed just one earned run in five innings to earn his first professional win.
But he was later traded to the Wichita Wingnuts, where he was billed as a possible closer, but when the Wingnuts wanted to trade him the next spring he decided to look for another way to be involved with baseball and took a job as an instructor at a Texas baseball camp.
Demko says he's having fun working with the young pitchers on the Muskrats staff and he's aware of what a crushing experience it can be for a young pitcher to suffer an injury which puts his professional baseball career in jeopardy.
''We try to be very protective of these young pitchers and bring them along in a measured way,'' says Demko.
Luke Demko, pitching coach for the Laconia Muskrats, watches play in this file photo taken earlier this season. The former Gilford High star, who is in his second year as pitching coach for the Laconia Muskrats, has been named pitching coach at the University of Rhode Island, where he set records as relief pitcher in 2009. (AlanMacRae/for the Laconia Sun)