|Parker hustles his way to childhood goal |
|Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2012 7:00 pm |
| By KEVIN WEAKS |
Drake Parker has hustled his way onto the Vanderbilt campus — in the good way.
The Union City High School senior has parlayed a hustling, gritty determination on the baseball field and in the classroom into a financial aid package from the Vanderbilt University baseball program.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve been told I was a ball of energy,” Parker said. “I bounced off the walls when I was kid. My dad talked to me when I was little and said that if I really wanted to play college baseball, I’d have to hustle at everything I did. So, it’s just something I’ve always done. I take a dead sprint to centerfield and then back to the dugout, and I run out all ground balls. In today’s world, where everyone is so big and I’m so small, I have to find other ways to stand out.”
UC head coach Jeremy Maddox knows how much getting a chance at the next level means to Parker and pointed out that reaching that goal was a direct result of his hard work and focus.
“It means a lot for Drake,” Maddox said. “He’s worked his entire life for something like this. He’s always had the vision and the dream of playing at the next level, and he’s made that known to me. So, it’s great to see someone get rewarded. It’s a direct reflection of that hard work. Any time someone gets to continue their athletics and academics at a place like Vanderbilt, it’s a tremendous honor.
“He is in the top two of the hardest working players I’ve ever been around. He has a passion and desire to make himself a well-rounded student-athlete. He has a unique combination of hard work and intelligence along with a God-given ability to play the game. I’ve only coached one Drake Parker, and it’s been a pleasure.”
With about 50 relatives and friends in attendance at the signing ceremony, held in the refurbished baseball locker room and followed by a reception in the Purple and Gold Room of the football fieldhouse, the son of Clay and Tammy Parker officially signed Vanderbilt’s Student-Athlete Intent to Attend form.
“I told my parents that I’d made the best two-way decision I could make,” Parker said. “Not only is Vanderbilt a great baseball program that’s still building, the academics there are just tremendous.”
Parker will work with his academic advisor on the best choice of courses to take in pursuit of his career path of being an athletic trainer.
The Intent to Attend is part of a unique financial package offered by the elite private institution, generally regarded as one of the top academic colleges in the nation. The BaseballAmerica.com website, in a story detailing Vandy’s sustained success in recruiting despite NCAA schools’ 11.7 scholarship limit, mentioned how the school can supplement that total with need-based and merit-based financial aid.
The financial package offered was just one reason Parker picked Vandy, though. A trip to the campus was really all he needed.
Parker chose the fast-rising SEC program — seven consecutive NCAA Regional appearances and a College World Series berth in 2011 under head coach Tim Corbin — after considering an impressive list of schools that included Tennessee, Mississippi State, Belmont, Alabama-Birmingham, Coastal Carolina, David Lipscomb, Austin Peay, Memphis, Murray State, UT Martin and Tennessee Tech, as well as numerous smaller division schools.
“I grew up a Tennessee boy, but I told myself going into the (recruiting) process that I’d be unbiased throughout,” Parker said. “When I visited the campus, I fell in love right away. It’s an awesome place, a perfect sized campus and in the middle of a great city. I love Nashville. And then when they showed me the financial situation they’d have us in, I knew immediately I wanted to go there. I knew it anyway, I just didn’t know about the money.”
College coaches were quickly sold on Parker, too, quickly overlooking his 5-8, 160-pound stature.
“Any time I talked to a coach, I said, ‘You have to come and see this kid,’” Maddox said. “There were those who said he couldn’t play D-1 because he’s not tall or big enough. But, not only is he a talented player, he makes up for that lack of size in intangibles and character. Any program would benefit from having a player like Drake on its team.”
Maddox quickly brushes aside any questions about his size and if he measures up in the Southeastern Conference.
“He can play, definitely play, with best of them,” Maddox said. “He can roam centerfield and has speed to burn. There are always going to be questions — as it is with anyone who goes into SEC baseball — of: Can he hit? Can he get that guy out? Can he do this or do that? That’s left to be determined until he gets there and finds out. It’s a wonderful challenge for him, not just getting there but then to earn a spot in the lineup, and he’s always been one to tackle a challenge head-on.”
Before he puts on the Black and Gold, though, Parker has one more year in the Purple and Gold.
Part of a talented senior class that has reached the sectional round twice and finished 18-14 last season, Parker and his classmates have their sights set a little higher — Murfreesboro and the state tournament.
“This bunch of kids, I would love to see it happen for them,” Maddox said. “These kids are not only athletically gifted, but they’re great young men. That’s a credit to their parents and families.”
Maddox has mixed emotions about signing during the early period, saying it can feel more like a farewell despite one more season to play at the prep level.
“You kind of hate doing the early signings because you feel like you’re saying good-bye to the guy, and that’s not what we’re doing,” Maddox said. “We’re celebrating his next chapter. He has one more year here, and we’re excited to see what he can do this year, individually and as a team leader. There are a lot of seniors in same boat with him. When they play the last game this season, it will be their last game in high school. I’m definitely excited about another year with all those seniors.”
Published in The Messenger 11.15.12