By MATTHEW STEVENS
Jarrod Parks got welcomed to life in professional baseball this week.
After an early-morning call-up, the former Mississippi State third baseman had only enough time to make his flight and ride to the ballpark to make it an hour before first pitch. Without knowing anybody in the locker room, Parks had only enough time to get his jersey.
“I had no time to stretch, no batting practice and was told I wouldn’t play (Monday),” Parks said. “Hours later (and) we’re in the eighth inning and I’m told to go pinch hit. I had to borrow a helmet, borrow a bat and had no idea about the guy on the mound. Welcome to pro ball, huh?”
For a player that has dealt with a back injury for at nearly six years, Parks got to benefit from somebody else’s health misfortune.
The Inland Empire 66ers of the Advanced Class A California League in San Bernardino, Calif., needed a third baseman after injuries to Dwayne Bailey (right hamstring strain) and Dillon Baird (right elbow strain) landed both infielders on the disabled list. The former Mississippi State product was at the top of their list.
Parks is expected to get his first start in the California League today just an hour west of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim ballpark. Parks signed a professional contract with the Angels franchise on June 15 with a rookie contract that included a slot signing bonus for a player drafted in the 24th round.
"Just for the fact that he doesn't know any of the signs and I don't want to throw a kid into the fire that isn't comfortable," 66ers manager Damon Mashore told the San Bernardino Sun Monday. "Who knows how long it's for – it could be for seven days, it could be for a month. It's a good opportunity. You make your own opportunities in this game."
When Parks received a phone call from the trainer of the Rookie League team he was playing every day on, the 23-year-old thought he was being sent down.
“I wasn’t happy when he called because there’s two things I immediately thought,” Parks said. “He either worries about my health and I’m fine or I’m getting sent down and then he told me they didn’t have a choice with this decision so at that point I thought ‘c’mon, really?’”
Parks, who was leading the Pioneer League in on-base percentage (.519), then heard that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim franchise wanted him in California and he realized he was moving up a level after hitting .419 in his first 12 games of professional baseball.
“The trainer (in Utah) handed me my flight information and said ‘maybe we’ll see you again in a week or maybe we’ll never see you again,'” Parks said. “They haven’t really told me what my role is right now.”
Parks was third in in the Pioneer League in batting average, tied for second in home run (three), tied for third in runs scored (12) and second in slugging percentage (.698). The statistics at the plate show Parks has figured out the major question mark that scouts have about college players when they becomes pros – hitting with wood instead of aluminum bats.
“To tell you the truth, I love hitting with wood bats over metal because now I get to pick and choose what type of wood and weight I want to hit,” Parks said. “In college, we had a contract with a metal bat company so there wasn’t but three or four choices. In pro ball, they let you try out what feels comfortable for you.”
Less than a month ago, Parks was trying to help out as Mississippi State competed in a Super Regional series in Gainesville, Fla., and looked to make its eighth trip in school history to the College World Series in Omaha. That quest now seems like a lifetime ago to Parks.
“Over the last three weeks, my home has been in three different states,” Parks said. “That's kind of crazy if you think about it. What I’m trying to do is stay calm with all this stuff and do what I know how to do and that's play baseball.”
Off the field, Parks is now being introduced to life on the road as a professional baseball player.
“I’m in a hotel right now and they’ve told me that I have three days to find a teammate to live with or find a host family,” Parks said. “So I’ll be the guy that's bugging guys in the locker room for a place to stay.”