By Tim Schulze, QBSN Staff Writer
Despite a slow season for the Quinnipiac baseball team, a flock of scouts can be seen every Friday afternoon at the Quinnipiac baseball field. They stand behind home plate, glancing at their notes while checking their radar guns after every pitch the senior right-handed pitcher delivers smacks against the leather of the catcher’s glove.
Derek Lamacchia knows that the scouts are there to watch him and only him. He knows that he has a shot to be drafted by a professional team this June in the Major League Baseball Draft. But he understands that he has come a long way since playing varsity high school baseball at Holy Cross in New York.
“I really didn’t pitch in high school,” Lamacchia said. “It’s something that was new to me here in my freshman year of college in my first full year as a pitcher. As a third baseman and a right fielder, I didn’t think I had much of a future in Division I baseball. I didn’t see myself as a pitcher or coming this far, so I thank God everyday for this opportunity.”
Despite only pitching 13 innings in high school, totaling 21 strikeouts, walking just three batters and hosting a sub-2.00 ERA, summer coaches came to the 6-foot-3 right-hander and suggested that his future may lie in pitching. He went to several summer showcases, including a showcase at the Long Island Ducks’ facility where he met Quinnipiac baseball head coach Dan Gooley as a junior in high school.
After moving on to Quinnipiac to pitch at the collegiate level, Lamacchia struggled during his freshman year, totalling an 8.92 ERA, allowing 35 runs on 49 hits in just 35 1/3 innings.
“It was a difficult transition coming from playing every single day as a position player in high school to being a pitcher here at the university,” the right-hander said. “There are days here where I’m sitting on the bench itching to get into games because I still feel that there’s something there that I can still play, but I am very happy where I am pitching.”
Lamacchia has improved each year since his freshman season, notably striking out 65 in 61 2/3 innings during his junior year, crediting his success to the development of his secondary pitches.
“As a freshman coming in here, I knew I had a pretty strong arm,” Lamacchia said. “I have been thankful to be working hard and getting stronger but I really think the key has been developing my secondary pitches: my breaking ball, my change-up, and my slider as well. My freshman year, when I struggled to throw those secondary pitches, guys would just sit and wait for that fastball and quite honestly they would just tee off of me.”
As Lamacchia developed what he calls a “plus-fastball” and a curveball to which he is comfortable using, it has taken him some time to develop his change-up. In a meeting with the Quinnipiac ace following last season, Gooley stressed the importance of using a change-up.
“He went off in the summer and used it a lot and then brought it back in the fall and used it in the City Series, and it was very successful,” Gooley said. “Now it’s all part of his repertoire; he has no concern about using it in different pitch selections and I think that’s just added to his value as a pitcher.”
Lamacchia knows, too, that this only makes him more dynamic.
“It’s been a major step in my development here as a pitcher,” Lamacchia said. “As a starter, getting through the lineup the first two times and not showing your full hand, having that third pitch available is definitely something that has worked to my benefit, especially with all the work I put in this fall.”
Although Lamacchia has struggled to pick up the winning decision in games throughout his collegiate career, he knows that the game isn’t entirely in his hands but at the same time doesn’t let losing affect his mindset.
“It’s all about maintaining composure in the time of difficult moments,” Lamacchia said. “I like to try to not show my emotions on the mound of what’s going on behind me regardless of whether we are winning 10-0 or losing 10-0. I think that you can’t show emotions of what’s going on behind you.”
Focus and determination are key attributes that drive Lamacchia to improve each time he puts on his spikes, regardless of whether he is shagging fly balls in the outfield during practice or facing the opponent’s top hitter in a bases-loaded jam. Either way, the senior always looks to help out the younger players, even if he comes off as quirky.
“He’s a little out there here and there, such as the stuff he listens to like the type of music, but he’s a senior leader who brings it to the team every practice,” team captain Chris Migani said. “He helps out the younger guys and will take them under his wing when they need it. He’s come a long way since freshman year. He’s grown up and matured and now he’s obviously our ace and he has a bright future ahead.”
With major league scouts present at every game that Lamacchia pitches in, there are always rumors and expectations from some that he could be the first Quinnipiac player to reach the Big Leagues since Turk Wendell in 1993. But for Lamacchia, ignoring the critics allows for him to focus on the task at hand; off the field, he understands that every little detail is being watched from a scout’s perspective.
“Last year was definitely a bit of a shock for me, especially being draft-eligible and seeing scouts at the games for the first time,” Lamacchia said. “This year, I am more focused on the task at hand focusing on the game while not letting things on the outside distract me from focusing on one pitch or one batter at a time. Obviously I know what’s going on but I really try to not let it affect me or take away from focus.”
Draft-status aside, Derek Lamacchia will continue to prepare for each start with the same ethic that has gotten him to where he is today.
“He is convinced that he can go onward and upward, especially with all the MLB guys that have been in here last year and this year to see him,” Gooley said. “To be honest, I thought he was going to get drafted last year; now what happens this year we’re going to have to wait and see. I just think somewhere along the line, someone is going to give him a chance.”