Justin Parker was among the South Bend Silver Hawks' best offensive players at the end of May, with 13 doubles, 19 walks, 22 runs scored, 19 RBI, and a .313 batting average to his credit. Then in June, Parker suffered essentially a dislocated shoulder that sidelined him for a few weeks. He battled back despite being nowhere near 100%. Although his production was limited, Parker developed into a clubhouse leader and led a very young team into the postseason.
Eleven games into the 2009 season, Justin Parker was batting .132. This came on the heels of a disappointing and injury-plagued rookie campaign. Rather than hang his head, the D-backs' 6th-round pick from last year's draft rattled off a 15-game hitting streak that included eight multi-hit games and 16 runs scored.
Parker continued to swing the bat well for a few weeks after the streak ended, but wound up batting .231 in June, .147 in July, .208 in August, and .188 for September.
"I'd like to say that I've played better down the stretch, but I just haven't played up to my hopes," Parker told us during the postseason. "I had a pretty decent first half, and now I'm just trying to grind it out."
The cause of Parker's offensive woes is easy to pinpoint. He missed three weeks in June with an injured left shoulder after playing through an injured right shoulder the previous season.
"My right shoulder bothered me last year throwing," Parker explained. "This year, I had my left shoulder - it's called subflexation - but basically dislocated and put back into place."
A Tale of Two Swings|
Parker in BP before and after
the shoulder injury. Notice
that he drops his back
shoulder in the later video
Rather than sit out the season, Parker once again chose to play through the pain despite the shoulder feeling "not even close" to 100% months later.
"I've just really cut back. My swing is probably 75% in BP, and in games just limiting my swings and trying to pick out a good pitch - just finding one I can zone in on and not miss."
Parker did connect on three home runs after the All-Star break, but his batting average dipped by over 100 points, his on-base-plus-slugging dropped by exactly 200 points, and his strikeout rate increased. Nevertheless, Parker was able to step up his game in key situations all year long. While his overall batting average fell to .252 on the year, he batted .292 when leading off an inning, .285 with men on, .300 with runners on and two outs, .300 with runners in scoring position, .340 with RISP and two outs, and .375 with the bases loaded.
His defense has actually improved since the injury. He committed 15 errors in 33 games before the shoulder separation, but just nine in the 40 games thereafter. Parker cites an adjustment period from playing primarily shortstop to playing third base full-time.
"I played there in 15 games last year," Parker said of the hot corner. "So the first half, I had a lot of errors. In the second half, I think I've made a lot of strides. I'd like to think that I'm getting a lot better, so I'm pretty happy with that."
Parker's ability to battle through his severe injury and still come through when his team needed him most set a terrific example for a very young Silver Hawks team.
"He's a leader. We ask him to do a lot off the field," lauded longtime Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley. "He expresses a standard of how we want to present ourselves. He reminds guys of how to do things."
On opening day, Ramon Ramirez was the only returning Silver Hawk from the 2008 season. He was released in August. The 22-year old Parker was the third-oldest position player on the postseason roster, and he was the eldest of all those who had been with the team for the entire regular season.
"It's tough with guys recently coming and going," Parker said of providing leadership and maintaining chemistry for the Silver Hawks. "The nucleus of the team has changed a little bit over the course of the season. I would say I take a little bit of a leadership role, but for the most part these guys do a good job . And everybody's pretty mature - even the young guys. They know how to get ready to play, and they know what it takes. So it's not really too tough."
While Parker might downplay his role in the clubhouse, his teammates and coaches paint a different picture.
"He has been one of our top guys, a leader on this team," Haley reiterated. "He's a tough kid who's taking what he's taught and implementing it."
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