Jarrod Parker knows better than most that winter work brings summer heat.
November, December and January are bleak months. Gray months. Months when no one outside of a baseball player thinks about baseball. Yet when Parker looks back at what has made him a major league pitcher, and what advice he would give young players, it's to be serious in the winter months.
Not every aspiring player has Parker's arm, of course. He has an arm that – even interrupted by Tommy John surgery – can deliver fastballs in the high 90 mph range and earned him his big-league debut in September.
But every player can work like crazy, which is the non-glitzy secret to Parker's rise from Norwell High School to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“How you play in September really does go back to what you did in January,” Parker said.
That's why Parker, who is setting up a winter routine in Phoenix, Ariz., has spent a few of his early winter days working with the training team of Athletes With Purpose (AWP) in Fort Wayne. There are no off days for a pro. There's no margin for a step back. There's work to be done so that, when your time comes, you're ready.
No one serves as a better example of being ready than Parker.
He calls the two-week period at the end of this past season the most incredible time of his career so far. Perhaps it's a prelude to even greater things.
In a matter of a few late-September days, Parker helped the Class AA Mobile BayBears win their league championship, was called up to the Diamondbacks, made his pitching debut in spectacular fashion, and earned a spot on the playoff roster.
His big-league debut night was the stuff of dreams.
With a slew of family and friends on hand Sept. 27, Parker started against the Los Angeles Dodgers, pitching 5 2/3 innings, giving up four hits and no runs. The Diamondbacks went on to win in extra innings.
Parker remembers walking to the mound that first inning, a trip he's made countless times but never before on the ultimate stage.
He said he tried to treat the game like any other, even though it was far from any other.
“Somehow, I was calm,” Parker said. “I don't know how, looking back now. But it was a fun time and I tried to realize how important it was and how fun it was and I tried to keep as cool as I could.”
He approached the game like any other, drawing on the lessons he's learned over the years, from the Summit City Sluggers to Norwell to this past year working on developing a better two-seam fastball with the Diamondbacks pitching coaches.
“I just tried to establish my fastball and get ahead and try to shake out some of the nerves I knew would be there,” Parker said. “I just tried to relax and make some quality pitches.”
Parker threw 73 pitches – 50 of them for strikes – and ended up with a no-decision when the game went into extra innings. But he could hardly ask for a better start to his career. He also hit a double, adding to the memories.
He has two game balls – one for his first major-league strikeout and one for his hit.
“That was actually my first (professional) extra-base hit,” he said. “It was a good time for it.”
Parker pitched briefly in the National League Division Series against the Milwaukee Brewers, giving up two hits and a run. While not as memorable a performance as his regular-season debut, there's something to be said for having that first playoff appearance under his belt.
Parker was a first-round draft pick by the Diamondbacks in 2007, the year he helped lead Norwell to an undefeated state-championship season.
After undergoing surgery in 2009, Parker missed the 2010 season. He worked relentlessly on getting back to form and started 26 games at Mobile last summer. He finished with an 11-8 record with 112 strikeouts in 130 2/3 innings. His ERA was 3.79.
The goal this spring is to make the opening-day roster, to embark on his true rookie season. Given the Diamondbacks' faith in Parker to end last season, it could happen.
That's why you'll find Parker working out, whether with his Diamondback connections in Arizona or his new AWP friends in Fort Wayne. A big-time major-league career beckons those who combine skill with preparation.
Today doesn't look like baseball season to most people.
To Parker, it's always baseball season, and the mound never stops calling those willing to work.