Jog down orange carpet no small feat for Parrish

ON BASEBALL

Commentary

Orioles Home Opener

April 10, 2007|By DAN CONNOLLY

On a chilly afternoon with six games already in the 2007 books and nine years of losing stuffed in this city's back pocket, yesterday's home opener at Camden Yards might not have meant what it once did.

But don't tell that to John Parrish, the Orioles' resurgent left-hander, who smiled just a little as he jogged down the orange carpet from center field during pre-game ceremonies, soaking in the glory of his third opener at Camden Yards.

Parrish knows that two years can be a lifetime, seven years an eternity. That's why yesterday was so important to him.

"Yeah, this year it's much more satisfying," Parrish said.

He's only 29, but is the organization's dean. No one on this roster has been part of the Orioles longer - not Melvin Mora or Brian Roberts or Jay Gibbons. And no one has had a tougher go.

Parrish was a 25th-round pick out of high school in Lancaster, Pa., in 1996 - back when Orioles starter Adam Loewen was 12.

Parrish's big league debut came against the New York Yankees on July 24, 2000 - four days before the Orioles traded for Mora - and he struck out nine batters in seven innings, including Chuck Knoblauch, Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams, to open his career.

"It's been a long, long time. Two stints on the disabled list and about 40 pounds later," Parrish said jokingly yesterday.

The disabled list trips weren't your garden variety. He blew out the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during spring training 2002 and missed the entire season. Then he lost half of 2005 after having Tommy John ligament replacement surgery and all of last year because of rehabilitation and surgery to remove a bone spur from the same left elbow.

Seven seasons as an Oriole and only 108 games to show for it. Frustrating, but not demoralizing.

"There wasn't a moment where I had given up, no," he said. "There was never a thought in my mind to give up. I just knew it was a matter of time before I got back."

He's back now. And possibly better than before.

After putting up a 3.09 ERA in 10 spring games, Parrish surprisingly made the team and, early on, has been the Orioles' best reliever. He pitched in five of their first six games, hasn't allowed an earned run and has struck out five in 4 1/3 innings.

It's too early to make a Disney movie out of this, but it has been a pretty inspirational return so far.

"Nobody knew the chances of me coming into spring training being healthy and contributing the way I have," said Parrish, who had not pitched in a regular-season game for the Orioles since June 11, 2005. "It's been long and hard, but I stuck with it."

The Orioles deserve an assist here. They could have given up on him plenty of times. No one would have blamed them if they had turned their backs completely during one of his ugly injuries or his inconsistency. But they didn't, through pain and personal problems, including a charge of driving-under-the-influence several years ago.

"He has been through a lot - adversity on the field, off the field, a major arm injury," Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan said. "He seems to have come back this time and is much more mature about pitching and about his personal life. It is a good story. It's not your usual story."

Flanagan remembers in the 1998 offseason, when the Orioles had open workouts at Camden Yards. Parrish would drive the 90 minutes each way to participate.

That impressed Flanagan. The kid tried, had great stuff. And was left-handed. Loyalty formed for the organization, for Flanagan.

"He has always been a sleeper for me," Flanagan said. "We just felt it wasn't time to give up on this guy; it was too soon."

In one spring, Parrish made it all the way back from forgotten man to potential key reliever.

And, for only the third time since his big league career began in 2000, Parrish had the chance to run down that orange carpet.

Master of ceremonies Jim Hunter threw in a "Welcome back, John Parrish," as he introduced the left-hander. The applause was a little louder than what the rest of the middle relievers received.

And it wasn't lost on Parrish.

None of this day was.

"That was nice that they were thinking that way and keeping me in mind," Parrish said. "It felt good when [Hunter] said that, and a lot of guys were saying how it was pretty cool.

"It was great, definitely a warm welcoming."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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