Competitive mental drives are necessary for all athletes, but newcomers redshirted must develop a unique perspective. Players must practice and prepare the same as those eligible for action; however, instant gratification for the labor is non-existent.
During non-conference games, redshirt pitchers will occasionally head to the bullpen to warm up, but it's simply to get work in. It is an ironic situation. The uniform is on. The crowd is cheering in the stands, and teammates are competing on the field. But the redshirt is preparing for the future and waiting on the chance for meaningful outings.
Michael Park was one of those players. After enduring several sometimes frustrating months of practice without play, the Memphis native has developed an appreciation for the redshirt season. Park sees improvement in his game, and the competitive innings have begun again.
The freshman is spending his summer with the Thomasville Hi-Toms of the Coastal Plain League, and Park has quickly established himself as one of the league's top arms. With a back injury and a redshirt season behind the right-hander, Park is ready to reap the rewards after a long road. A quality summer in North Carolina is a great way to start.
"You never like the redshirt at first because you aren't playing," Park said. "But as time passes, you understand how important it is, and why it is the best thing. I'm a better pitcher now, and my eligibility is still intact. The summer is going great, and I am excited for the future. If anything, the redshirt makes you more motivated."
The Thomasville coaching staff has slotted Park as its Saturday starter, and the Memphis University School product is currently 1-1 with a 1.16 ERA. The miniscule earned run average is the second best for the Hi-Toms and ranks seventh in the CPL.
The .500 record is misleading, as Park suffered through four unearned runs in his lone loss, and on June 21 against Wilmington, Park was saddled with a no-decision after the Thomasville bullpen and defense couldn't hold a 1-0 lead.
Park scattered two Wilmington hits and shutout the league foe over eight innings, but the Sharks stole the game when two hits and an error supplied Wilmington with a 2-1 victory.
"That game was tough to lose, but the summer is about me getting better and seeing more game action. The goal is to regain the ability to go deep into games and continue to throw strikes and locate consistently. I talk to Coach Laff (pitching coach Carl Lafferty) after every start, and we go over things.
"I can easily go 90 or 95 pitches and not lose anything on any of my pitches. That is very encouraging for what is going to be a big and important fall."
The extended outings are a good sign that former back problems are behind Park. The MUS standout garnered preseason Louisville Slugger All-America honors his senior season but missed the year with a stress fracture. After a lengthy process to diagnose the problem, Park was also held out of some of his first fall at Ole Miss.
"The back is 100 percent. No problem at all," Park said.
Park has struckout 22 hitters and walked six in his 23.1 innings of work for the Hi-Toms (13-9), who are one game behind Forest City in the Western Division standings. Thomasville taken the CPL title the last two seasons, and even though the players are different, that streak remains important.
"The coaches talk about getting a three-peat all the time," Park said. "It is a business, and you want to have a competitive product on the field. We do well with about 1,500 people at our games. It is a good summer atmosphere."
And also a good learning experience to further prepare Park for what is more important – his career with the Rebels.
"I would be lying if I said I wasn't antsy," Park said. "Everything is going great, and I'm ready for the fall. It will be exciting."
Fellow Ole Miss RHP Phillip Irwin is also a member of the Hi-Toms, but the rising junior tweaked his back and has only worked 4.1 innings and allowed one earned run. Irwin struckout seven and walked one in that appearance.
Summer Success for Rebels' Park
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