Mike Parrot returns to the Hillsboro Hops in 2017 for his second year as the pitching coach. It will be his 20th year in the organization. In total, this will be Mike’s 46th year in professional baseball – 15 years as a player and 31 as a coach. During that time, Mike has “coached every level in the minor league” system. One of the “original Diamondbacks”, Mike has now been coaching twice as long as his playing days, firmly entrenching him in America’s favorite pastime lore. I had a chance to talk with Mike before the 2017 season started.
After retiring as a player, what he missed was the “competitiveness and comradery.” When I asked him if he felt he had retired too early, he said with a laugh, “Maybe at first – but not now.” Now, Mike finds it in coaching. With coaching, “it’s the same – just a different level.” The feel of the game is ingrained as he watches the young men trying to reach the dream as he had a generation or two ago. He has watched young men year in and year out come to the park with hopes of maybe one day having what is known as the cup of coffee at the major league level.
During that time, he has seen several players whose fathers he knew as teammates. Now, he jokes, I am seeing the “grandkids of former teammates.”
Helping the young potential major leaguers adjust is one of the duties of the minor league coach. The adjustment is one of the major changes when coming from high school or college. If you “watch the game live or on TV”, the average fan “can’t appreciate how fast the ball” will reach you in the infield or outfield. The game is much faster at this level and keeps getting faster the more levels you rise.
Another duty is to help that young player refine and focus the talents that brought him here. But, it is more than talent that will help him succeed. It also takes hardwork, dedication and a focus on his profession. Gone are the distractions of classwork and homework. Here at the professional level, the player is free to focus only on baseball and minor league life can keep you busy. So much so that it is important for that young player to be able to step back in those rare moments where he can think of something that is not baseball.
What does Mike think is important for the players of today to learn about the game? “History. This game hasn’t changed in 150 years” and is full of tradition. When he was drafted, Mike joined up with the minor league system and started paying his dues. Back then, “one year, we didn’t even have a clubhouse because it had burnt down.” Today, the modern minor leaguer will stay at places like “Embassy Suites” or another first-class hotel. When Mike was in the minors, “even the major leaguers didn’t get to stay that well.”
Today, “Millennials don’t know the backstory. They don’t know its history. They don’t know about the strike years” and “how it affected the game. What has led to the ballparks of today” and what players had to go through for them to realize and enjoy what they are getting today as compared to when Mike was a rookie in the minors.
Nicknamed “Bird”, Mike was drafted in the first round (15th overall) by the Baltimore Orioles out of high school in 1973. He made his MLB debut during the 1977 season, the same year he earned the MVP for the International League. That was to be his only season in the Oriole uniform. On December 7th, Mike was traded to the Seattle Mariners for Carlos Lopez and Tommy Moore. Local fans will remember him better pitching for the Seattle Mariners from 1978-81. He led the Mariners with 14 wins in 1979.
As a youth, Mike enjoyed playing the game. He remembers “throwing a ball against the garage door” over and over wanting to become a pitcher. He still sees the passion today and in every generation before. The “players get into the game because they enjoy it. The new fans” as well. Growing up, one of his heroes was Bob Gibson, the Hall-of-Famer who pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals for 17 seasons. Gibson retired in 1975, two years after Mike was drafted and two years before he made his own MLB debut. What did Mike emulate the most about the man? His “delivery.” Gibson was so proficient that the mound was lowered from 15 inches high to only ten after he struck out 17 batters in game one of the 1968 World Series.
Arguably, Bob Gibson wasn’t the only reason for the lowering of the mound. It was an era of many great pitchers. One of which, Sandy Koufax, Mike also followed. Especially since he grew up near the Dodgers. When Mike was hurling that fastball against the garage door, he was imagining Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax and how they would throw against Mickey Mantle or Harmon Killebrew in the World Series.
His advice for the modern-day parent who wants to see their child chase a dream and maybe reach that MLB cup of coffee? “Let’s the kids have fun. Enjoy what they are doing.” With pressure being greater today than when he was growing up, Mike sees “kids burning out because the game isn’t fun” for them. They can’t feel the passion. Without that passion, you can’t dream.
Hops fact: In 1981, Mike built his own home.
Featured Image by Amy Beck/Reno Aces
By Greg Stoker