By MATTHEW STEVENS
Jarrod Parks’ routine after a baseball game doesn’t resemble a 22-year college athlete.
It sounds more similar to a person getting home from an exhausting day of work.
“I’ll be honest, after a game – I go straight to the showers, leave the park and normally drive home before my back starts to tighten up,” Parks said. “When I get home, I’ll either lie completely down or sit in my recliner and watch T.V. Either way from that point on, I don’t really move.”
And then the next day, Parks gets up and does it all over again.
Because before that routine, the favorite part of his day is putting on his uniform, trotting out to third base, hitting third in Mississippi State’s batting lineup and as of today, leading the Southeastern Conference in hitting.
“I know it sounds stupid but I’m not ready to be an old man just yet, I just want to be a ball player,” Parks says. “The longer I can avoid being in the business world is one more day I get to be a baseball player and do what I love.”
Obviously he is a young person born in 1988 but his near incapacitating back injury just disagrees with his birth certificate on occasion.
Parks, who is currently leading the best college baseball conference in America with a .409 batting average and a .533 on-base percentage, spent yesterday driving to a hospital in Jackson to receive a quarterly epidural shot in his back so he’ll be able to continue on his current pace for the rest of the 2011 season.
Parks goes in for the epidural treatments to help as he puts it “lubricate the disk of my back and it won’t bulge out as much causing the pain.”
“It’s not really that big a deal – it’s something I have four times a year and I’ll be driving back to Starkville (Tuesday) night not long after the anesthesia wears off,” Parks said.
Mississippi State head coach John Cohen has seen the effort as the fifth-year senior as a very big deal.
“To get him out there every weekend, or in the middle of the week, he has to have periods of time off," Cohen said. "The other thing about Jarrod is, there are several things in the weight room he can't do.
You're talking about a kid who is restricted in many, many ways, really since the moment he got here. To accomplish what he's accomplishing is a real testament to how much he puts into it.”
After being honored as a two-time all-state honoree, all-district and Jackson area all-metro selection at Madison Central High School, Parks injured his back in his freshman season at nearby Meridian Community College defending a bunt play.
“I’m running to field a bunt at third base and the pitcher just ran me over,” Parks said. “From that moment the disks in my back will bulge out.”
Until last year when the pain was just too debilitating.
When he signed with Mississippi State, the coaching staff thought they were getting one of the best contact hitters in junior college baseball. In the 2011 season, that’s exactly what they put in the lineup every game but they had to wait to see it consistently.
Parks’ 2011 season is more than a year after he walked into Cohen’s office and had to tell him he simply couldn’t play.
“He walked into my office and it was like he felt awful having to tell me his season was over before it ever started,” Cohen said. “Yeah, it hurt this team last year to not have him but it wasn’t his fault at all. When Jarrod Parks tells you he can’t play, it means nobody could’ve played with that type of pain.”
Parks told Cohen he needed season-ending back surgery to relieve the pain in his nerves that would constantly run down his leg and arms in ways he’d never felt before.
“There was a lot of nerve damage there and look I’m a simple guy and it had to get fixed,” Parks said. “Now the adrenaline gets me through games just fine and I don’t feel it when I’m out there.”
Parks says he won’t stop by the training table in the locker room of Dudy Noble Field for treatment because it just doesn’t work any longer.
“I’ve tried ice, heat and all that stuff and I’ve just decided that it’ll only help for so long,” Parks said. “Over time, I’ve learned how to play with it and know how to manage the pain.”
When his back isn’t acting up, Parks has had to deal with concussion-like symptoms after being hit in the head with a pitch in Wednesday night’s loss at Alabama-Birmingham.
Cohen wrote Parks name in the third spot of lineup as he’d done for the for the first 35 games as almost a muscle memory reaction before learning he wouldn’t be able to play.
Parks told the Starkville Daily News on the morning of April 16 that after he was experiencing severe headaches the day before and had an inability to sleep, he was feeling “better and better every day.”
“It just depends on how I feel once I start playing,” Parks said in a text message that morning.
That evening Parks went 1-for-3 against No. 25 Arkansas and hasn’t missed another game since.
Parks is trying to join eight different players in Mississippi State baseball history to hit .400 in a single season joining the likes of Major League players Buck Showalter, Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro.
More importantly, Parks sees four more SEC series where his team can complete its best season since he arrived on the Starkville campus.
“The records don’t mean anything to me because quite frankly I’d hit near .400 anyway,” Parks said. “We’re at a point in our schedule where we feel like we’re going to see teams where we don’t have to fight for a win and then hope for two. We can get two if not sweep every team we play from here on.”
After a productive summer league season with playing for Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League champ Bethesda (Md.) Big Train, Parks has been impressing scouts with the hope of getting an opportunity at a professional career. Before his back surgery, Parks was tabbed by Baseball America as that league's No. 8 pro prospect in that college wood-bat league. Two years later, while joining MSU teammates Ryan Collins, Cody Freeman and Nick Vickerson, Parks hit a team-best .304 and had a .494 on-base percentage.
“I’d love to get drafted and be a professional baseball player,” Parks said. “I just want to stay young and despite it playing makes feel that way.”