Fort Wayne’s Justin Parker eager to get moving as Indiana University baseball pitching coach
Justin Parker will attest it’s hard, but not impossible, to top coaching college baseball in Florida.
Parker, a Fort Wayne native, spent the last two years as pitching coach at the University of Central Florida and thrived doing so. Nine of his pitchers went on to professional baseball opportunities, including five after last season.
“The baseball down here is incredible,” Parker said Wednesday. “There are a lot of cool amenities down here. But at the end of the day, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Parker, 31, was named pitching coach at Indiana University last week, joining the staff of new coach Jeff Mercer. Parker and Mercer were teammates at Wright State, later coached together at Wright State and have a friendship so strong, Parker was the best man at Mercer’s wedding.
“I’m excited to help him build his vision for Indiana,” Parker said. “We’ve talked about this for a long time. I’m excited to get back there and get to work. We’re going to have a very blue-collar approach.”
Mercer, who spent the last two years as head coach at Wright State, was hired to succeed Chris Lemonis, who left IU to become head coach at Mississippi State. When Mercer began to assemble his staff, Parker was a natural coach to call.
“It’s been very gratifying to see (Parker) become one of the best pitching coaches in the country,” Mercer said in an IU news release. “Indiana University baseball is better in every way with Justin joining the organization. He is an incredible asset to our entire program, not just our pitching staff.”
Parker, the older brother of former major league pitcher Jarrod Parker, played baseball at Wayne High School and was drafted as a pitcher in the 43rd round by the Minnesota Twins in 2005. After opting to play at Wright State, he was drafted again, the second time as a position player, in the sixth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2008. He spent three years in the Diamondbacks’ minor-league system as a shortstop and third baseman.
Upon returning to Wright State to finish his degree, he joined the baseball staff as a volunteer and was hired as a coach three years later.
His background as a pitcher and position player gives him a unique perspective in his coaching.
“It’s been incredibly helpful,” Parker said. “When I’m working a bullpen session, I’m able to stand in the bullpen and see what a hitter sees – how the ball comes out of the hand, the way it spins, does it all look the same? I can use pitchers’ eyes and hitters’ eyes.”
While his pitching staffs have been successful as a unit, Parker also values preparing players for potential pro careers. He said that is one way IU’s program has evolved over the last few years to become one of the nation’s most respected programs.
“The most common thread Jeff and I have is we really value getting players in position to play at the next level and maximize their personal development,” Parker said. “We want to get guys ready not just to be drafted, but to have a good pro career and have a shot at doing what they’ve dreamed about their whole lives.”
Parker also said he enjoys the recruiting side of the game, especially in uncovering the players who will best fit.
Finding the right players with the right tools, skills and intangibles such as competitiveness and work ethic, are part of the process, he said.
“I love the scouting portion,” he said. “When people talk about recruiting, they sometimes miss out on the scouting portion, the evaluation. You have to be a salesman and believe in what you’re selling to be a great recruiter and I definitely believe in what Coach Mercer stands for and I’m excited to go recruit at IU.”
Parker and his wife, Angela, are in the process of moving to Indiana, and he expects to hit the ground running on the recruiting trail ASAP.
“What they’ve been doing (at IU) the last few years is far different than when I was coming up and playing,” Parker said. “Indiana baseball now creates a big-time opportunity for player development and to coach guys to the next level.”