Major persistence pays off
Once homesick, Parker guts it out at UC, makes it to pros
BY BILL KOCH | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
About a month into his first year at the University of Cincinnati, Logan Parker walked into baseball coach Brian Cleary's office and asked him what he had to do to secure his release so he could go back home to Odessa, Texas.
Cincinnati wasn't for him. He missed his girlfriend, his family, his friends and the small-town atmosphere of Odessa, made famous in "Friday Night Lights," the book and movie about Texas high school football.
Cleary, who had recruited Parker out of New Mexico Junior College, tried to reason with him. If Parker intended to play professionally, he was going to have to get used to being away from home, he told him, so he might as well begin making that adjustment in Cincinnati.
And Parker talked to his grandfather, who told him the same thing.
"He basically told me to be a man of my word," Parker said, "and stand up to it even though I was going through rough times."
"He told me some of his war stories, about how homesick he was during World War II in Germany, only he had no options," Parker added.
That was good enough for Parker, who decided to persevere at UC. Two years later, he is glad he did.
After a senior season in which he batted .344 with 11 home runs and 69 RBI in 58 games playing first base for UC, Parker was drafted in the 12th round by the Reds and dispatched to their Billings, Mont., Rookie League team.
At Billings, he has picked up where he left off at UC. His three hits Tuesday night against the Missoula Osprey made him the Pioneer League's leading hitter with a .432 average. He had an on-base percentage of .545 with one home run and nine RBI in 13 games.
"If he was a second- or third-round pick, it wouldn't have surprised me," Billings manager Rick Burleson told the Billings Gazette. "I think he's that good. But the fact that we got him as late as the 12th round is a good bargain."
A lot of college players struggle in their early days in professional baseball because of the adjustment from using aluminum bats. But that hasn't hindered Parker, who, at 6 feet 3, 220 pounds, has compensated with his strength.
"Using wood bats last year in the Texas Collegiate League really prepared me for this," Parker said Wednesday. "A wood bat doesn't feel much different for me than the aluminum."
Parker, who admittedly wasn't nearly as good a player as he is now, was not recruited out of high school. He began to blossom at New Mexico Junior College, where he hit .425 and drove in 84 runs in 51 games.
Cleary recruited Parker on the recommendation of a coaching friend who worked in the Southeastern Conference. Parker hit .313 as junior with the Bearcats, then took off as a senior thanks to an adjustment in his batting stance recommended by UC associate head coach Brad Meador.
"I was striding all over the place," Parker said. "I was too anxious in the box. Coming back this year, Coach Meador and I got to use the video cameras, to see what looked best. He's the reason I'm where I am today.
"I was crouched down really far. I got back to standing up and spreading out a little bit. I had to work on getting my foot down early, picking my foot up and putting it right back down instead of trying to stride too much."
Without the long stride, Parker had more time to commit to the pitch. That made him more selective at the plate.
"His junior year, he would swing at anything that was white and round and coming toward the plate," Cleary said. "His senior year, he was happy to take a walk. He was a lot more disciplined at the plate."
The last UC baseball product to make a big splash professionally was Kevin Youkilis, who was drafted in the eighth round by Boston in 2001 and is hitting .307 as the Reds Sox starting first baseman.
"If you just look at physical ability, you might put Parker ahead of Youkilis," Cleary said. "But Youkilis had a ridiculous, intense, competitive drive. He had a chip on his shoulder. He had been told so many times he wasn't good enough, and he proved everybody wrong every step of the way."
Parker, who learned to enjoy Cincinnati and now calls it his second hometown, needs three more courses to earn his UC degree in criminal justice. He hopes to complete those this fall.
By then, if he keeps hitting the way he has been, he might have been promoted to Single-A Dayton in the Midwest League.
In the meantime, he likes Billings - and pro baseball - just fine.
"It's almost identical to Odessa," he said, "except for the fact that I look up and see mountains everywhere. I like it a lot. When we got our first paycheck the other day, it was really exciting."