Texas A&M coach Rob Childress still feels the hair on his arm stand up when he thinks about the moment his ace, Asa Lacy, stood in front of teammates and spoke last January.
Almost everyone associated with A&M baseball the past three years has a story to tell about the 6-foot-4 left-hander, whose power stuff and relentless work ethic just made him the No. 4 overall pick by the Royals in the 2020 MLB Draft.
His name, Asa, was inspired by his great-grandfather, Asah, a Swede, and the biblical king, Asa. At Texas A&M, another name has seemed appropriate: Ace.
Many of the stories are about pitching dominance: the fastball that touches 97 mph or the slider that was honed so nicely in this abbreviated season. To Childress, a college pitching guru for three decades, his Asa Lacy moment came during a meeting of the team’s book club of all things.
“He put himself out there in front of his teammates,” Childress said. “I’m telling you, it’s one of those things no one on our team is going to forget.”
First, a little background. When Lacy was 14 years old, a pitching coach stopped a workout and asked, “Why are you doing this?”
Wait, what? Isn’t that obvious? Well, no.
The coach added: “Why are we here?”
That coach, Jim Morris, had been a Texas high school coach who gave up his job to resume pursuing a Major League dream.
He made his debut for the Rays at age 35 in 1999 and became the inspiration for the Dennis Quaid movie, "The Rookie." He had framed those questions -- about commitment and work ethic and purpose -- in a way that Lacy wrestled with for a long time.
“I didn’t have an answer for years,” Lacy said.
That changed after his freshman year at Texas A&M when, unhappy with both the team’s culture and his own performance, he set out to change things. Around that time, something clicked.
“We were going to change the culture,” Lacy said, “and Coach Childress led the way.”
Anyway, fast forward to that book club meeting last January when Lacy stood up in front of his teammates and began to speak.
“When you love the process more than you love the games, you’ve got a chance to be great,” he said. “That’s when you find yourself achieving the things you want to achieve.”
Lacy added that the one thing he’d learned through the years is that everything matters, that everything must be done with a purpose.
“Whether that’s fielding drills or working on pitch grips or a weight-room session, it’s all important,” he said. “Are you a good teammate? Are you accountable to yourself and your teammates? How do you deal with adversity? Because you’re going to have it. It’s how you deal with it.”
Thinking back on that day, Lacy said: “I love the work more than the game. That was the main message.
“I think a lot of guys probably felt the same say. It was just someone putting it into words. Every one of us has a favorite part of practice, and how much you enjoy those things translates into your performance on the field. You’ve got to put every last drop of sweat into the bucket.
“If you do that, the game will be like it was when we were little kids, which is why we started playing in the first place.”
Childress added: “You could see guys nodding. When your best player says something like that, it hits home. And the thing is, he does love the routine and the process and all the things you have to do to achieve greatness.”
Those lessons have been important since A&M’s season was shut down due to the pandemic.
“I would rather be playing,” Lacy said. “I think we had a chance to have a special season. But guys all over the country feel that way. You’ve got to find some way to turn a negative into a positive.”
Lacy has done that by positioning his iPhone on a tripod in his backyard and breaking down his mechanics.
“It’s a reminder that I still have so much to work on,” he said. “I’ve been able to nitpick my delivery in a way you just can’t during a season where you’re focused on your next start.”
Comparisons? Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman is a good place to start, with the three-quarter delivery and clean mechanics.
“I think we’re pretty similar,” Lacy said. “I haven’t studied it closely on Baseball Savant, but that’s what I’ve seen.”
Or Clayton Kershaw. Lacy's parents allowed him to stay up late to watch Kershaw’s West Coast starts, and he has studied the Dodgers lefty from just about every angle.
“I think we have similarities,” Lacy said. “I don’t have the stop-and-go in my delivery, but in terms of release height and back legs, we’re pretty similar. I do think that’s one of the things scouts and teams are looking at. There is no obvious similarity to anyone. I’m pretty unique, so it’ll be interesting to see where I end up going.”
Childress, who also serves as A&M’s pitching coach, was hugely responsible for Lacy’s development, including by helping Lacy add 20 pounds of muscle and 10 mph of velocity after his freshman season.
In 24 innings, Lacy did nothing to hurt his Draft standing -- as Kansas City proved when it made him a top-five pick. Lacy's stat line: eight walks, 46 strikeouts, 0.75 ERA and 0.71 WHIP. Overall, in 38 career games at A&M, he had a 2.32 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 128 innings.
“This season was the best I’ve felt,” he said. “Everything was rolling. Everything was feeling good. I hadn’t even used two of my four pitches to get through the four starts and was looking forward to breaking out the curveball and changeup a little more in SEC play.”
Lacy's one regret, he said, is losing a season in which A&M’s expectations -- and his own -- were so high.
“There was so much love among these guys,” Lacy said. “I haven’t played on a team like this before. It was really, really fun.”
But he’s also ready for the next step.
“He’s just dominant, man,” A&M catcher Mikey Hoehner said. “I've never seen someone so dedicated to his craft.”