PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Jacob deGrom looked down at his tuxedo and tugged at the cummerbund around his waist. He had never worn one before, another first in a season filled with them.
But the occasion required him to dress up. So on the night this winter when he picked up his National League Rookie of the Year award, the Mets righthander made sure to look the part.
It was one of the many times that deGrom, 26, made a concession to his newfound fame.
"It comes with the territory, I guess you could say," he said. "You know it's going to happen. If you have success, you know people are going to want your picture and your autograph. It's all part of it. I've enjoyed it."
A year ago, there wouldn't have been the need to give a speech, or pose for photos, or sign for strangers. But after his promotion to the Mets, the typically reserved deGrom quickly found himself in the spotlight.
Called up to pitch out of the bullpen last summer, deGrom wound up in the starting rotation and never left, going 9-6 (he lost his first four decisions) with a 2.69 ERA. In the space of one season, he went from an afterthought to a budding star, complete with a trademark look, thanks to his long, flowing hair.
Now the Mets are banking on an encore.
"From what I've seen, he's pretty much the perfect storm with what you're looking for in a starting pitcher," David Wright said. "It didn't take long to realize that he had that kind of stuff and that command."
Though he was a light-hitting shortstop until his junior year at Stetson, deGrom proved to be a quick study at the finer points of pitching. Tommy John surgery robbed him of time to develop his craft. Yet from his sense for reading swings to his ability to change speeds, deGrom's feel for pitching came through. And even with the pressure turned up, nothing changed.
In his big-league debut against the Yankees, with his head still spinning from sudden promotion, deGrom allowed one run in seven brilliant innings.
It turned out to be the beginning of something big.
"That kind of atmosphere for a younger player I'm sure is real nerve-wracking," Wright said. "But to come in and throw as well as he did, and stay as composed as he did, it was impressive. After that start, you're kind of thinking to yourself, 'wow.' He just looked nice and calm out there, like nothing could rattle him."
Precision became deGrom's most lethal weapon. At 93.5 mph, his fastball had plenty of life. But catcher Travis d'Arnaud said it was command that made deGrom look so unhittable.
"The ball's getting on top of you quick," d'Arnaud said. "And when he's controlling his four seam and his two seam, one moves about six inches and the other one looks like it's rising. It's really tough to adjust to as a hitter."
DeGrom rarely missed his target, a skill he could repeat with all of his pitches.
Said d'Arnaud: "With him, you put a glove somewhere and it's more times than not where your glove is at."
In spring training, deGrom showed no signs of deviating from his game plan. In his first 22 innings, deGrom struck out 21 and walked four.
But perhaps just as important, he has grown more comfortable. Though he's still naturally shy, he has learned to embrace the attention that has come with success.
"When I first got called up, I kind of wasn't really good with everything," deGrom said. "It all happened so fast. You're getting asked all kinds of questions and you're not really used to it. But now I've settled in."