FORT MYERS, Fla. — Blake Parker has spent his major-league career in Chicago, New York and southern California, and while he has fond memories in each — playing baseball for a living makes it easy to put up with inconveniences — he said he’s really looking forward to spending this summer in Minnesota.
“Southern California is beautiful, obviously, [and] the weather’s great. But there are way too many people for me, too much traffic,” said Parker, a native of Arkansas who signed with the Twins as a free agent in January. “Minnesota is a great place. It just feels like I’m back home, almost, even though it’s a few states away. Super nice people, passionate fan base — I’m excited.”
I wrote for this morning’s paper about Parker’s idiosyncratic windup, which brings him plenty of attention, not all of it positive. He’s heard fans yell, “Throw the ball!” from the stands as he prepares to pitch. But if he pitches the way he has in training camp, Twins fans won’t be complaining. Parker has faced 10 batters and retired nine of them, seven via ground balls with his sinker.
It’s clearly a relief to Parker, whose spring training last year with the Angels was terrible, almost comically so. Coming off the best season of his career, he appeared in nine spring games for the Angels, and allowed runs in seven of them. The Angels assured him he would make the team, but with an embarrassing 14.54 ERA, he got nervous.
“Going in last year, I wouldn’t say I was lackadaisical, but I didn’t have real purpose behind getting ready and progressing. I was getting my work in, but I was trying to get ready for Opening Day, where as this year, I’m trying to be game ready right now,” Parker said. “I was really excited coming to camp last year, probably too excited. I don’t know, I’m definitely using it as learning experience. And I want to keep building on what I have going right now.”
Parker keeps notes during the season, reminding himself of what’s working and what’s not.
“You almost have to relearn to pitch every year. If you don’t keep a journal, keep little side notes about what you might be doing well — whether it’s keep your hand up, keep your shoulder closed, or stay back, anything like that — you’re going to lose track of them when you come to camp,” he said. “You can figure them out again as you go, but if you’ve been keeping track, when you’re thrown back into the fire, all those checkmarks will line up before the season starts.”
Parker isn’t scheduled to pitch today, when the Rays come to town for a noon CT game. Jake Odorizzi will pitch, and most of the Twins starters will play. Byron Buxton will serve as designated hitter, giving Jake Cave a chance to patrol center field again.
Here are the lineups for today’s game. Marwin Gonzalez (sore shoulder) is a late scratch.