This time, Parent knows the score

KEN ROSENTHAL

February 23, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Catcher Mark Parent signed with the Orioles a year ago figuring he could make the club. But shortly after arriving at training camp, he discovered he had no chance.

Parent said he knew nothing about the Orioles roster -- and that his agent, Chuck Berry, failed to inform him that Chris Hoiles was projected as the starter, with Jeff Tackett and Rick Dempsey the potential backups.

According to Parent, Berry also passed on a $350,000 offer from the San Francisco Giants earlier in the winter, a decision that forced him to accept a minor-league contract with the Orioles that earned him about $80,000.

"When I got here," Parent said, "he was fired."

Parent's version isn't entirely accurate -- San Francisco vice president Tony Siegle said the Giants were never close to signing him, and Orioles assistant general manager Doug Melvin said Berry had to perform a "selling job" to land him a contract.

Still, his frustration was understandable.

Parent, 31, played nine years in the minors before spending his first full season with San Diego. Then, after getting traded to Texas in December 1990, he suffered a career-threatening knee injury in a home-plate collision during an intrasquad game at spring training.

Now he's back with the Orioles, fighting again for his professional life. His showdown with Tackett is the Orioles' only head-to-head duel this spring. Parent made it possible by batting .287 with 17 homers and 69 RBI last season at Rochester.

"If I was 26 years old and put up those numbers at Triple-A, I'd come into camp with all the fanfare in the world," he said.

Well, he isn't 26 years old, and his size -- 6 feet 5, 251 pounds -- is a further hindrance. His skills, however, are almost identical to Tackett's. Both are right-handed hitters. Both are defensive specialists. Tackett is quicker behind the plate. Parent hits for more power.

That last element is surprising, considering that Parent has a .199 lifetime average in 522 major-league at-bats. "He couldn't hit the ball out of the infield last spring," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said.

Parent never hit more than seven homers in any of his first 13 pro seasons. But last season, he developed a lift in his swing that transformed him into a serious power threat. He finished with 19 homers, including two with the Orioles in 34 at-bats.

Two days ago, Parent hit a ball onto the roof of the Orioles' training complex, 400 feet from home plate. "I'll never forget batting practice the last day of the season in Cleveland," Oates said. "He hit the ball into the mezzanine -- fair. That ain't an easy trick."

To think, it appeared his career might be over in the spring of '91, after he underwent surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The rehabilitation normally takes eight to 10 months. Parent returned in 5 1/2 .

It was a risk, coming back so quickly, but Parent had extra motivation. That July, he learned that his father, Gene, had inoperable lung cancer.

"I wanted this man to see me play again," Parent said. "I didn't want him thinking I was done."

He checked the Rangers' schedule and noted the club's final West Coast trip was in September. His goal was to play in Oakland, near his family's home in Cottonwood, Calif. But first, he needed to complete a grueling series of medical tests that included 100 deep knee bends.

"It was like going to war," he said.

He wound up appearing in only three games, but one of those was in Oakland. His father responded to radiation treatment, and the cancer went into remission. Now, if Parent can just stick with the Orioles, his father will get to see him play again.

Two weeks after the season ended, Parent started lifting weights six days a week. He reported at 251 pounds, but by the end of the spring, he expects to be down to his normal 240. The question is whether he actually can beat out Tackett, who has spent his entire career in the Orioles' organization.

Oates loves Parent's arm -- "he can wait until a guy is halfway to second and still throw him out" -- but the veteran still faces long odds. He learned yesterday that he still has a minor-league option, meaning the Orioles can return him to Rochester.

"I'm not owed anything. I was never that good. I always felt lucky to get what I got," Parent said. "But if I have the kind of spring I want to have and don't make the team, I hope they will find me an opportunity to play somewhere else."

That much he has earned.

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