NASHVILLE — As grateful as Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics is to receive minor-league baseball's lifetime achievement award, it won't mean quite as much because the love of his life won't be there to see.
Karen Lukevics died in Tampa on Nov. 18 after a lengthy battle with ovarian cancer. The wake was Nov. 27, the funeral Nov. 28. The banquet is tonight.
"It's been a very difficult week, a lot of emotions," Lukevics said Wednesday in the Opryland lobby, fighting back tears. "The last time I was in this hotel my wife was with me — we received in 2007 the Topps minor-league organization of the year award.
"Fast forward to 2012 and I'm honored, I'm humbled to receive the Chief Bender Award. And the most important person in my life can't be here to share this with me. So there's a lot of emotions."
The day after Karen, 56, died, Mitch made the drive from the north Tampa home they'd shared since 1988 and went to work at the Trop. "I didn't really know what to do," he said.
One of the team's longest-serving employees since signing on in 1995, Lukevics took care of a few things that had to be done, met with his staff then left around noon, and spent the next two weeks dealing with all the difficult issues that have come up.
But he knew he had to come to Nashville. Thirty-two years of marriage — and the "love and commitment" — made that clear.
"Somehow, being with my teammates, my really good teammates, makes things easier. It really does," Lukevics said. "This is what she would want. And this is by her wishes — I have to move on. That's hard to do right now. Every day gets a little better. There's always reminders, and there will be reminders. And she'll tell me at 59 to grow up."