By MATTHEW STEVENS
The argument could be made Jarrod Parks made an impact on Mississippi State’s 2010 baseball season without playing a single inning.
It occurred during a preseason conversation between the single infielder and head coach John Cohen.
“I can tell you when he came to tell me he was going to have surgery and not be able to play, I could just tell how much pain he was in,” Cohen said Friday during MSU’s baseball media day session. “I knew that was going to hurt our ball club immediately (because) he was one of the few experienced guys we were going to have.”
Parks had successful back surgery before the start of the 2010 season and spent the spring doing rehabilitation to get healthy for his fifth and final year on the MSU campus.
“I could tell he was in excruciating pain and he was telling me the pain was running all the way down his leg and it’s just something he had to do,” Cohen said. “The positive thing is we’re going to get him for another year and I think we’re going to get tremendous production.”
Unlike most injured players, Parks decided to stay around the team atmosphere while doing his rehabilitation but described watching games last year at Dudy Noble Field as a “helpless feeling” that he hopes to never have to repeat again.
“I felt it for the guys because it wasn’t fun to not be able to help them drive in that run when they needed it last year,” Parks said. “There was nothing I could do about it. I wanted to make a play when somebody couldn’t.”
Cohen admitted Friday his coaching staff is still unsure how the potential rotation at third base between Parks and fellow roommate Nick Vickerson but one thing the third-year head coach is sure of is the pair of seniors have to be in the lineup in some way.
Vickerson returns to Starkville as the team’s leading returner in nearly every offensive category including average (.333 overall and .328 in Southeastern Conference play), on-base percentage (.447, .423), home runs (8, 6) and stolen bases (10, 6).
“I’m sure if one plays third base then the other may be the DH because I feel Nick and I have the best chance to be the top two hitters on the team,” Parks said. “It doesn’t really even matter between us because we’re such good friends, it doesn’t even matter. We’re not going to lose sleep over who starts and who doesn’t.”
The Bulldogs head coach joked that trying to keep his fifth-year senior healthy is a major priority and difficulty because he’s already been hit several times in the batters box during team scrimmages this spring.
“He’s a magnet,” Cohen said with a laugh. “That’s what we’re looking for.”
Parks has said the key for him with MSU takes the field for opening day next Friday against Akron (4 p.m.) will be to temper the excitement of getting on the field for the first time since he played 20 games two years ago as a junior.
“What I’m going to try and do is stay calm throughout all of it,” Parks said. “With all the adrenaline for that first game, it sure won’t be easy though.”
Parks, the 6-foot-2 infielder, could also be part of a platoon system at first base with senior Ryan Collins and true freshman Daryl Norris as well. Collins, who played all three outfield positions last season, could rotate between first base and right field throughout this upcoming season.
“It’s kind of exciting in a way to come to the ballpark and not knowing where you’ll be in the field or in the order,” Collins said. “You kind of just get used to it playing for Coach Cohen and once you mature, you really begin to like it.”
As one of six seniors in this 37-man roster for Mississippi State, Cohen knows that Parks’ leadership come the grind of Southeastern Conference will be more than critical.
“I have no concerns (about his back) whatsoever and on the field, I don’t even think about it,” Parks said. “I’m ready to play. The back is not a factor until I get trucked by a pitcher and then – it may be an issue. I’m positive it will hold up.”