By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – As he was being carted off the field and put on an ambulance, his left leg completely numb, it would’ve been hard for Jarrod Parks to imagine that what had just happened would somehow benefit him in the long run.
It was his freshman year at Meridian Community College, and Parks, a third baseman, had just been “trucked” – to use his term – by his own pitcher while trying to field a bunt. His only thought: “I’m done with baseball.”
Fortunately, feeling returned to his leg about 15 minutes later, and it turned out he just had a herniated disc. He soon returned to action and earned second-team all-state honors.
But the disc in Parks’ back became aggravated as he went about his work, and eventually it hit a nerve, leading to leg pain. He finally had to have surgery in January of 2010, causing him to miss the entire season.
The pain hasn’t completely left Parks, and it serves as a reminder of how he has changed – for the better – as a hitter. Once a power guy, Parks now hits for average and leads the SEC at a .409 clip.
“My goal this year was to be above average, maybe just hit above .300 and have a few home runs, do my job at the plate and hopefully be one of the better guys on our offense,” Parks said. “What I’ve done this year has definitely surprised me.”
While Parks was forced to sit out last season, he wasn’t idle. He would sit in the stands behind third base during games, studying pitchers and hitters. In May he started taking “dry” swings, then graduated to hitting off a tee.
Once Parks started taking a little batting practice again, things got tougher.
“It looked like it was coming 150 mph,” he said. “When I got jammed, I was like, ‘Oh, man, I felt like my back broke right there.’ ”
Parks was once a slugger. He hit 14 home runs his sophomore year at Meridian.
The lingering pain, however, forced Parks to slow down his swing, and while that’s reduced his power – he has two home runs this season – it’s made him a more complete hitter.
“Since I couldn’t swing hard any more because of my back – that kind of hurt it – it enabled me to take an easy swing and just kind of barrel everything up,” he said. “I think that’s kind of transferred over to now. I’m not really trying to swing for the fence every time, I’m just trying to hit it where it’s pitched.”
Parks pressed on and played in the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League last summer, hitting .304 with a team-best .494 on-base percentage.
MSU’s coaches praise Parks for his toughness, but also for not trying to do too much. He’s limited in what he can do in the weight room – squats are out of the question – and with conditioning work. He communicates with the coaches about what causes him pain.
But Parks sure wants to be on that field, and he has been, for 39 of MSU’s 40 games. He missed the opener at Arkansas on April 15 due to a concussion.
“To see what Jarrod has done with the situation with his back, it’s just remarkable,” head coach John Cohen said. “It’s a great testament to how tough a kid he is and how dedicated he is to his craft.”
Trading in power
When MSU assistant coach Lane Burroughs coached at Southern Miss, he recruited Parks and saw a guy with “some definite thunder in that bat.” What he also saw, last season, was a player eager to pick up the nuances of hitting.
The new bats introduced to college baseball this year put a premium on such an approach, and that’s played right into Parks’ hands.
“He couldn’t get in the dugout with us, but he sat right there, and he studied pitchers and he studied hitters,” Burroughs said. “I think he learned a lot just sitting there watching them. He took advantage of that.
“A lot of kids would probably do the ‘woe is me’ and not take advantage of it, just be upset they’re not playing. But I feel like Jarrod took full advantage of the opportunity to get better when he wasn’t playing.”
Parks is still in pain. He had to drive down to Jackson on Tuesday to get an epidural injection to lubricate the bulging disc in his back and alleviate the pain.
He said adrenaline keeps him from feeling any pain during games, and Burroughs hasn’t noticed Parks being hindered by his back when swinging the bat or bending over to field a ground ball.
Parks is on a 13-game hitting streak and has reached base in 33 consecutive games. His .533 on-base percentage leads the SEC.
“You keep waiting on him to take that swing – I don’t want to be negative or anything – but you just hold your breath sometimes and hope it doesn’t blow back out on him or he re-injure himself,” Burroughs said. “But I don’t think it’s affected him at all.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571