Rick Fires is a reporter and columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Parker ready for another challenge in major leagues
Los Angeles Angels closing pitcher Blake Parker in action against the Seattle Mariners during a baseball game, Wednesday, July 4, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)
Blake Parker is in a much better place today than he was a few days ago, when temperatures in Minneapolis plummeted to near record lows, fueled by a polar vortex that gripped the upper Midwest.
“I was up there for Twins fest, and it was only minus-7,” Parker said. “I didn’t get the worst of it.”
Twins fest is an annual event for Minnesota Twins fans to hobnob with players past, present and future. Parker is one of the newest members of the organization after he was signed as a free agent in January following two seasons with the Los Angeles Angels.
He left Fayetteville on Thursday for the Twins’ spring training camp in Fort Myers, Fla. Grapefruit Leagues games for Minnesota begin Feb. 23, and Opening Day for the Twins is scheduled for March 28 at home against the Cleveland Indians.
Parker’s rise as a major-league pitcher is remarkable, considering he played three years at Arkansas and never appeared in a game as a pitcher. He played third base, outfield and catcher, the position at which he was drafted in June 2006 by the Chicago Cubs.
Parker gave up his catcher’s mitt one day after he hit a long home run during a game in the low minors.
“I was walking to my car with my buddies when somebody came up and told me the coaches wanted to see me,” Parker said. “I thought I was being promoted. But they wanted me to try pitching, and I was throwing the next day.”
Parker made his major-league debut with the Cubs in 2012. He also pitched briefly for Seattle and the New York Yankees before solidifying his standing as a major-league pitcher with two successful seasons in Los Angeles.
Parker went to spring training with the Angels in 2017 and, basically, forced the team to put him on the 40-man roster with an overwhelming performance that included an 0.73 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 12½ innings.
He carried that momentum into the regular season and became a top relief pitcher for two years with the Angels, who, despite his success, declined to offer him a contract for the 2019 season.
But that’s the business of baseball, especially in the era of free agency where players come and go at a rapid pace. It happened during the offseason with former Arkansas catcher James McCann, who is now with the Chicago White Sox after spending five years in Detroit. Former Arkansas infielder Logan Forsythe, who spent part of last season with the Twins, is a free agent again after playing with four teams in eight years.
The turnstile nature of baseball is one players have come to expect. It is a primary reason Parker, 33, lived in a recreational vehicle for a while with the Angels instead of a house or an apartment.
“I still have the RV, but I don’t have to live in it,” Parker said.
Still, he is determined again to prove he belongs at the major-league level after receiving a phone call from the Angels informing him that he would not be retained.
“When I got that phone call from the Angels, it lit a fire under me,” said Parker, who agreed to a one-year deal with the Twins. “Baseball is a mental grind with a lot of luck and timing involved. But it’s hard to complain when you’re out there playing in the majors in a big, beautiful stadium with 30,000 fans watching. So, I’m going to Florida with the attitude I can still do it.”
Parker isn’t sure whether he’ll be used in middle relief or as a closer for the Twins. Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli and pitching coach Wes Johnson, who was hired from Arkansas, will make that decision.
Minnesota fired manager Paul Molitor last year after the Twins finished in second place in the American League Central, 13 games behind the Indians. Parker said he’s excited about joining a team with plenty of new faces, including the additions of sluggers C.J. Cron and Nelson Cruz, who both hit over 30 home runs last season.
“I’m excited to be working with Wes Johnson, obviously, and joining the Twins organization,” Parker said. “When I was up there, everybody involved with the organization felt like family, and they welcomed me with open arms. I think we’re going to be a force in the AL Central, and I’m ready to get started.”
Rick Fires can be reached at rfires@ nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWARick.
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