Travel permit put Parent on rapid comeback trail

March 05, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- All Mark Parent has to do is make it through another day and he'll be ahead of last year.

As the Orioles play their annual intra-squad games, the huge catcher can be excused for thinking terrible thoughts. It was during the final camp game of the spring for the Texas Rangers last year that Parent's season, and almost his career, came to an end.

"It was the second of what was supposed to be three innings," said Parent. "We were opening the exhibition season against the Orioles that day. The runner [Tony Scruggs] didn't know whether to slide or just run right through. So he sort of flopped."

Right across Parent's left knee. The 6-foot-5-inch, 225-pound catcher was, for most purposes, finished for the season. He was back working in the bullpen three weeks after the season started, a boost to his morale but, when the club told him he couldn't travel, it motivated him even more.

"Bobby [Valentine, Texas manager] told me I couldn't travel until I could play," said Parent. "It made me mad and I told him I'd be back before the season was over."

That's not what the doctors said. "They told me it would take seven to nine months," Parent said after serving as designated hitter during the Orioles' first of two intra-squad games. "I made it back in 5 1/2 months."

The fact that he played only five games at Oklahoma City and three with Texas didn't diminish what Parent had done in his own eyes. "It was the biggest accomplishment of my career," he said. "I wasn't just coming back from knee surgery. I was coming back from reconstruction of the knee."

Now he's trying to reconstruct his career. His strength, despite his size, is his defensive ability.

"He's a bulldog, a real hard-working kid who made himself a good catcher," said Deacon Jones, now an Orioles scout, but the hitting coach at San Diego when Parent was with the Padres.

"He had difficulty catching at first because of his size," said Jones, "but he made himself a good catcher. He's a good student of the game and a good communicator with the pitchers."

So much so, in fact, that his presence caused some friction on the Padres staff. "A few of the guys requested me as their personal catcher and it caused a few problems," said Parent.

"I thought he might get more of a chance to play when [Benito] Santiago got hurt [two years ago]," said Jones.

The Padres decided otherwise, trading Parent to Texas two winters ago. He never got a chance to show anything to the Rangers. Last spring's injury took care of that.

Parent has no illusions. He's signed to a Triple-A contract, hoping to prove he's a major-league catcher.

"I don't think their expectations are that high and I think I have that working for me," said Parent. "I just want to show them some things that would make them want to keep me around."

Along with Jeff Tackett, Parent is one of the roadblocks to Rick Dempsey's return to Baltimore. Parent may have to have his ticket to Oriole Park at Camden Yards punched at Rochester, but that's not in his thoughts right now.

Parent said joining a new team for the second straight year "is like being a new kid in school two years in a row. You have to learn the rules, what they expect of you.

"And," he added, "like a teacher they have to learn as much about you as possible. What my thinking is all about is learning to play again.

"I don't care how long you've played, a year is a year."

Manager John Oates admits he knows almost nothing about Parent. "I think probably I've seen him only about two innings in my life, in an exhibition when he was with San Diego and I was with the Cubs," said Oates. "I don't know if I ever saw him hit."

Hitting is not Parent's forte. As his size would suggest, he does have some power, but it is easily evident he's not a double-figure home run hitter.

In that sense, he's a lot like Tackett. Both are very good defensive catchers with excellent throwing arms who work well with pitchers. One of them almost certainly will open the season as the No. 1 catcher at Rochester.

"When we signed Mark [as a free agent] it was with the idea of giving us someone with experience in case [Chris] Hoiles was injured," said Orioles' assistant general manager Doug Melvin. "Chris is an important part of this team, but he hasn't caught more than 110 games in a season. The thinking was that we wanted to have someone with experience available."

Dempsey, of course, has more experience than the trio of Hoiles, Tackett and Parent combined. At this point he is probably the front-runner to back up Hoiles.

But Parent is taking nothing for granted. "I'm just hoping to show them enough to want to keep me around," he said. "I'm trying to get back to what I do best and hope there are enough people around who know me, and what I can do."

Getting past the intra-squad games will be a step in the right direction. Parent, who had a single and walk in three plate appearances yesterday, was scheduled to catch today's final camp game before the Orioles head to St. Petersburg and the start of the exhibition season.

At this stage of his career, Parent will take it one step at a time.

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