Parks Plans A SEC Tourney To Shout About

Good thing gametime is still over a day away. By then maybe—maybe—Jarrod Parks will be able to speak in something more authoritative than a stage-whisper. A seriously hoarse stage-whisper at that. "I guess it's from yelling at the umpire," he says, kind of. "Or, maybe, that we're in the tournament."

Or more likely the combination of both. Because Parks certainly found equal reason for howling Saturday afternoon. Whether it was the most unpopular out call at and subsequent ejection during the game; or the ensuing celebration and evening Bulldog bacchanal over their earned SEC Tournament berth, he had something(s) to shout about.

The price though is at the moment this Mississippi State senior can barely talk.

"I don't know what is wrong with my voice, it's been like this for two days," he admitted. "I told Coach Cohen I'm not going to be communicate in practice today." Not a problem, really, as by this point of their season the Diamond Dogs can operate well without words. For that matter it was not even words which got Parks in trouble with first base umpire Tony Walsh.

His batting helmet smacked to the sack more than got a message across and an authority's thumb in the process.

"It was more I got caught in the moment," Parks relates. A heck of a moment, too, as he was legging it for the base after dribbling a ground ball down the third base line. Safe, and the tying run scored; out and the inning was done. And as Coach John Cohen noted Monday, Parks turned in perhaps the best home-to-first time of his college career in the effort, finished with a face-first slide.

"I wish I had hit the ball a little better," Parks says. "But I thought I was safe. But I just knew as soon as he had a chance to make the call it was going to be out. I just knew it, I had my hands on my helmet." Which was convenient in showing his anguished disagreement over the call, of course. "But I shouldn't have done that."

For that matter Parks had already irked umpires, after a strikeout in an earlier LSU series game on a check swing. Which everybody in the park but the first base ump (a different one) who ruled on the appeal. Most players would have disagreed but this was Parks, who has been a master all this season at reading zones, laying off bad pitches and halting his hack in time. Which, he says, "I thought I had done a good job of stopping my swing." After the outing he whacked the bat to the box, another flare of emotion.

And, something unusual for Parks. It isn't merely that he has led, and for that matter continues to lead, the league in hitting and earned more walks than strikeouts. It has been his apparently placid demeanor on the field all year. Apparently, that is, because the competitive fire burns just as hot with this Bulldog as any. Parks has just done a better job showing a calm face and poised approach in 2011.

So he is genuinely disappointed to have let those bad breaks, or incorrect calls if one wishes, push the wrong button. But then any State fan reading box scores the past couple of weeks understands there are extenuating circumstances. "You know, when things aren't going as well for you it's just hard to react. And I've been going through a little slump."

Actually a great big one by his high 2011 standards. Parks' prowess at the plate this spring has been one of the real SEC success stories, as he has paced the conference for two months now. In fact at one early May point Parks was hitting .419, and when he went to Oxford for that crucial series it was on a 21-game batting streak. That got snapped in the first game, though irritation remains about an error ruling when Parks skipped a shot past the Rebel shortstop's glove. More seriously though was a one-hit weekend overall, beginning the current slump.

Parks can't finger one particular reason for the skid. "Sometimes you anticipate a pitch and they throw the complete opposite. I'm taking some pitches I shouldn't take, and swinging at some pitches I shouldn't. I've swung a little too hard at times." In other words, just a typical sort of slump…even for an atypical batter. "That's all going to change come postseason," he promises.

Encouraging word of course. But if fans were asked, they would hope something does not change this week. Specifically, the open emotion Parks has been suddenly showing. For that matter he got as many cheers Saturday after ejection than for some of his bigger hits this season.

"I had more people come talk to me about the game and thank me for getting thrown out! Thank me for telling that umpire what he needed to hear, apparently some people liked that. I shouldn't have done it but it got a lot of people fired up!" The key of course is not to fire the wrong people (i.e. the men in blue) up any more. Parks knows well that playing to the crowd takes away from playing to win.

And bottom line: that just wasn't being himself. "I guess that kind of, you know, humbled me a little bit getting thrown out. And it's not going to happen again, because I feel I'm a leader. I've had my 0-for-4s and walked back, said whatever, I'll play better next game."

Parks has something else to shrug off this week, having made the Monday trip to Jackson as a finalist for the Ferris Trophy only to watch Tyler Koelling of Southern Mississippi selected. Bulldog fans are naturally annoyed that the SEC's leading swinger was passed over by the committee, which consisted of state college coaches, professional scouts, and a single media member.

"I'm happy for him, he was an ex teammate of mine at Meridian. But obviously I wanted to win, I kind of thought I should have. But that's the way things go. And in the end we're going to Hoover."

Parks goes to Hoover with a .385 batting average, two points in front of a pair of close followers, and bidding to be the first Bulldog to lead the league since Thomas Berkery hit .383 in 2006. Post-season statistics count of course so work remains. One of the other contenders, LSU's Mikie Mahtook at .383, won't be at Hoover but does expect a NCAA opportunity next week. Wednesday however pits Parks directly against Florida's Mike Zunino who also has a .383 average. Neither are close though to Parks in on-base rate, as his .529 average far and away leads this league.

The batting race will be one of the week's side-stories in Regions Park, whether the contenders are there or not. Parks admitted that he wasn't tracking the stats over the weekend, nor did he know if it was based on regular season, SEC season, entire season, any of that. "I didn't know when it ended so I was like, whatever." He might follow it a little more closely now, though.

"It's different, Mahtook is going to be sitting at home watching me trying to screw it up or add even more! I don't know if that's an advantage or disadvantage for me but we'll be in different regionals and whatever happens, happens." Though, maybe Parks wants this a little more than he initially admits as he compares cuts with Zunino tomorrow.

"Obviously I hope we win, but it would be nice if I stacked up a few hits too. And maybe he goes 0-for-6 or -5 or whatever." Umm, that would mean either a really long game, or a whole lot of Florida at-bats. "0-for-4!" Parks quickly corrects.

What he and teammates also hope is to turn AA-sized Regions into something like a home field advantage. While Parks' own coverage demands rarely vary infield by infield, he does welcome a spacious outfield given how well his teammates there can cover ground. He also doesn't care that the Bulldogs won't practice at Hoover before Wednesday warm-ups as it will not take long to get a feel for the infield.

And it's worth noting Parks has played at Hoover before. He was on the 2009 State squad that took on Alabama-Birmingham there, though as a pinch-hitter late in the evening. A cold evening at that; Parks still recalls almost freezing to the dugout seat and not wanting to swing a frigid metal bat. That won't be an issue Wednesday of course with mid-80s temperatures forecast. Oh, and it is a daylight game which Parks certainly prefers.

But all that really matters is matching up in the first round with a top-tier opponent which expects to host a regional. Florida might not be bringing their best arms into the first round but no Bulldog is assuming it means an easier assignment. The Gators are as good a club as any in the country, Parks agrees…but at the same time State gave them a scare back in early April.

"I remember obviously we won the Friday game, and we had a chance to win the Sunday game. So I think if we just play our game and the way we're capable of playing it's going to be close. Everybody knows they're one of the best teams in the country but we definitely have the ability to take that first game from them."

And after that, who knows what these Diamond Dogs are capable of? It has been a grueling, even painful process at times playing through this spring with little coming easily to a team that had no postseason resume to draw on. They've changed that now, and the relief shows…most of all on some seniors who head to Hoover with the sense of earned achievement.

"It's awesome," says Parks. "That was our goal coming into the season, just get to the postseason. And we did it. Hopefully we'll make a little run. And it's just fun because this is my last year, to finally make it is a fun thing to experience."

Fun to talk about, too, even if just in a rough whisper. Let Mississippi State score a few wins though and plenty other folk will pick Parks up on the audio aspect.

Gene's Page Top Stories