Spotlight on Former Athlete: Jace Conrad - Baseball 2011-2014
Baseball, Robicheaux taught lasting lessons to ConradBy Bruce Brown
In baseball, it's easy to fall in love with statistics, those often minute details that can tell you how a player fares on a night-to-night basis – numbers that cut to the heart of the action.
Jace Conrad had his share of eye-catching numbers when he played for UL's Ragin' Cajuns from 2010-14 capped by the remarkable 2014 campaign that saw the Cajuns finish 58-10, one game short of the College World Series with an NCAA Super Regional loss to Ole Miss at home.
The local product was the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year and an All-American selection with 96 hits, a .381 batting average, 20 doubles, 22 stolen bases (after 19 in 2013) and 65 runs batted in.
But the standout second baseman remains just as proud of his 3.0 academic average, as well as his degree, as barometers for his impact at the school.
As much as his performance between the lines, it was his progress off the field under the late Tony Robicheaux that shaped who hs is today,
“Coach Rob held you to a very high standard,” Conrad said of Robicheaux, who died of a heart attack in July. “He had a great impact on a lot of players. He expected us to have an impact off the field in the community and in the school.
“You learned that every decision you make should be the right one number one, and one coach Rob would support. He had tremendous impact on the young men he coached.”
Conrad recalled a pivotal moment in his relationship with the coach that shaped his career and his life.
“My freshman year, we were supposed to have a team workout on a Friday afternoon,” Conrad said. “A teammate and I decided to work out early, then go to his camp to go hunting that weekend.
“The call I got that Friday night was the kind of call you never want to get again. Coach Rob brought me down to Earth, told me I was a nobody, that I hadn't done anything yet and that I had abandoned the team.
“At 5 a.m. On the next Monday, I met him at the football stadium and I ran until I couldn't run any more. He told me I wasn't any better than anyone else, that this kind of stuff was not going to fly and that you can't cut corners in this game. You shouldn't put others before yourself. In fact, you should put yourself last.”
Conrad was a member of the Lafayette Little League team that reached the Little League World Series, so it might be easy to see how he was feeling he was pretty special at a young age.
But that credential didn't bear much weight later in college.
“The LLWS is something you always wanted to play in as a little boy,” Conrad said. “It was a great experience. As a kid, you just want to have fun. But that only gets you so far. High school baseball was a great experience. There's a lot more to it.
“(Under Robicheaux) I did a complete 180. I learned the secret is to make others better, to serve others. When you do that, you make yourself a better person. It helps you to hold yourself accountable.
“Coach Rob used to say a lot of you want to call yourself elite, but you're not willing to BE elite. You set an example by the way you conduct yourself, Others respond to your actions. You can handle tougher situations.”
58-10 remains special year
Conrad saw a Robicheaux inspired chemical change in the 2014 Cajuns in that memorable 58-win journey.
“He and (hitting coach) Matt Deggs started to weed out players who had become a liability,” Conrad said. “They wanted 30 players who bought in. They started to make changes in a positive direction.
“You couldn't be (just) 99 percent in. You had to be all in, 100 percent.”
So a 23-30 club in 2012 improved to 40-23 in 2013, setting the stage for one of the great seasons in UL athletic history.
“The 1 percent difference showed up in the classroom. Players had their grades where they needed to be. They hustled on and off the field. They were serious.
“Baseball is a game that will reward you when you do the right things. The game is going to pay you back.”
That improved focus helped the Cajuns to handle adversity.
“In many games, we would get down, but score 3 runs or 8 runs – whatever it took – to come back and win. The biggest thing is how you respond when life punches you in the face. Do you just stay on the ground, or do you get up?
“There were times when our backs were against the wall. Things will be up and down. But you don't stop playing the game the right way. If you do the right thing, success will find you.”
Conrad shared that special season with younger brother and teammate, Brenn.
“That was fun playing together,” Conrad said. “I'll never forget being together at such a high level. And, he really hated to lose.
“Coach Rob really changed his life, too. He gave him a second chance.”
Deggs right for the job
Perhaps with that 2014 season in mind, Conrad endorsed UL's choice of Deggs to take over when Robicheau passed away, saying “he's almost a perfect fit to keep the legacy going.”
Conrad, a regular attendee at Cajun games, shares life with wife Alex, whom he met in Canton, Ohio, during minor league competition. Recalling his multi-sport youth, he said “I'm sure I'll help out if our kids try sports. But sports are the least of my worries. I just want them to be good kids, and good people.”
As if he needed it, minor league baseball confirmed Conrad's feeling about the education he got as a Cajun.
“It was great, and I wouldn't have mised it for the world,” he said. “But it was an eye opener for so many things I was taught – what to do and what not to do.
“There's more to life than just a game.”
Football once caught Conrad's eye
Jace Conrad was a good enough athlete as a youth to look at many sports before settling on baseball.
“I played football, basketball and baseball,” he said. “I just loved to compete.
“I played football through my freshman year in high school – played running back and linebacker. Then I tore my miniscus and stuck to baseball after that.”
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