Arkansas State baseball Coach Tommy Raffo would often come back to his office for a late-night task, and when he'd roll past the Red Wolves' Tomlinson Stadium in Jonesboro, he'd see the lights still on with a couple of cars in the parking lot.
Without fail, one of those cars would belong to Liam Hicks.
"[He] truly treated baseball as a profession," Raffo told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
That was well before Hicks had turned himself into a pro ballplayer and a ninth-round selection in the 2021 MLB Draft. Not even two years later, the Toronto native is already at the Class AA level with the Texas Rangers and a regular behind the plate for the Frisco RoughRiders, who lost 8-2 to the Arkansas Travelers on Thursday night at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock.
Although Hicks didn't feature in Frisco's defeat, the 23-year-old hit .311 in 15 High-A games before getting promoted and launched a homer in his Class AA debut earlier this month.
"Coming into the year, I was just happy with where I was put," Hicks said. "So it was kind of a surprise when I got called up. But definitely a good surprise. ... And the baseball just gets better and better."
The same could be said for Hicks' career. He went from a lightly-recruited prospect in Canada to a sought-after junior college talent after hitting .370 and .440 with 21 home runs during the 2018 and 2019 seasons at Mineral Area College in Park Hills, Mo.
By the time the 2021 season rolled around, D1Baseball had tabbed Hicks as its No. 23 draft-eligible hitter.
But it wasn't until the leadup to that season that Hicks found his defensive home. He'd grown up playing shortstop, and while he caught some at Mineral Area, he still spent time at second base early in his ASU career.
Once Hicks knew he was going to pursue a baseball career, it was relatively clear that the best path to the big leagues was as a left-handed hitting catcher.
The offense has carried over for Hicks, but he's had to hone his defensive acumen -- especially with a staff featuring two of the top 80 prospects in minor-league baseball in Owen White and Jack Leiter.
"Receiving is the biggest thing," Hicks said. "Keeping strikes [as] strikes -- it sounds easy but it's a lot harder when your guys are throwing so hard and they have such good movement like they do here."
Hicks said he is still learning to call games and he takes pride in "being a guy that our pitchers want to throw to him."
Equally important to Hicks is his connection to the Red Wolves. He'll return to northeast Arkansas during the offseason as his girlfriend still lives in Jonesboro, Although it'll be during the day rather than after sundown, Hicks will frequent the ASU facilities to stay in playing shape.
"It's really cool to represent [the program]," he said. "I try to be a good face for it because they did a lot for my career."
By the time Hicks' brief stint at ASU ended, Raffo said he had a good feeling whatever organization drafted Hicks would be getting "a gem."
The results were undeniable, but the work ethic convinced Raffo all the more so.
"When somebody has that type of motivation and drive when you get into the grind of professional baseball ... it doesn't become an issue," Raffo said. "It's almost out of complete enjoyment to better oneself."