July 2009

Letting It Ride All the Way from the Bronx

Despite growing up across from the basketball courts, it was
always baseball for Pete.  As a 10-year
old, he’d travel 40 minutes to Brooklyn and over an hour to Long
Island to play competitive baseball.  As a 12-year old, he had “an amazing
experience” with a New York City All-Star Team playing 2 weeks of baseball in Tokyo.  “We spent 4 days with a host family and the
first day, they tried to make a traditional American breakfast,” Pete told me,
“but on the second day, it was back to rice.” 
He was also quick to recall a trip to an open-air market that sold,
among other things, “huge crab legs…I devoured that.”  One of his teammates on that All-Star Team
was Mike Baxter – born 2 days after Pete – and now playing in AAA for the San
Diego Padres. 

It wasn’t until his junior year at Cardinal Spellman
High School that Parise
realized that his talents could lead to a baseball career.  He was 16 when the first pro scout came to
one of his games.  It was the late Buddy
Paine, who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer less than a year ago.  Buddy was the first to tell Parise that his
baseball career would be made on the pitcher’s mound, not in the outfield or
behind the plate as a catcher.  Pete told
him that he appreciated the advice, but he was a hitter.  “I guess he was right,” he says now with a
laugh. 

The college recruiting process was as painless and
stress-free as everything else seems to be for Pete.  “I wanted to go to Fordham, but I walked to my recruiting visit and my Dad
told me to get out of the city.”  He
could have gone to St. Johns
or Stony Brook, but it was his first visit that ultimately could have been his
last.  “Pittsburgh is a great sports town, great
people, great fans – something I wanted to be a part of.”  He wanted to catch, that’s what he loved to
do, but there was a senior ahead of him, so when Head Coach Joe Jordano asked
him if could play the outfield to keep his bat in the lineup, Pete thought to
himself “yeah, that’s not that tough” – but out loud was happy to say “yes.” 

From his first series down at the University of New Orleans
through the end of his college career, he made the outfield look pretty easy
while doing the same at the plate becoming the school’s all-time hits
leader.  But pro scouts were still
convinced his future was as a pitcher. 
On April 13th, 2007 – in front of a hometown New York crowd at St. Johns
– with Pitt holding a 10-9 lead with the bases loaded and 1 out in the bottom
of the 9th, Coach Jordano threw Parise right into the fire.  The 6’1″ righthander walked to the mound from
his place in right field and started throwing 90-92 mph on his fastball and
mixed in a slider that he learned in Little League – the same slider he uses
now one step away from the majors.  That
combination worked as he struck out the first batter he faced for the second
out.  Now with 2 outs and the tying run
on 3rd, “the kid put down a swinging bunt in between the mound and
first – I picked it up, and it was a bang-bang play that won us the game,” Pete
said as recapped his first collegiate save. 

Draft day came and went for Parise, and after not hearing
his name called, he was packed up and ready to go to Florida where his parents had moved.  That’s when he did get his name called – by
the Slippery Rock Sliders of the Frontier League.  Parise upped his workouts, starting to feel
his arm loosen by the day and was hitting 94 on the radar gun, working in that
slider and a new 2-seamer and was “loving throwing to wood bats.”  Life in the Frontier League didn’t last
long.  While on the road in Evansville, Indiana
– Manager Greg Jelks, a career minor leaguer, called Parise to tell him that
the Cardinals wanted to sign him.  Done
deal.

Pete Parise isn’t a high-energy reliever.  He’s serious, but remains even-keel.  “Whatever happens, happens.  I can’t beat myself up – no reason to put
extra pressure on myself, just let it ride,” he says.  Parise’s never been one to agonize over game
tape, but found himself spending a lot of time with pitching coach Ace Adams at
the start of the 2008 season at Quad Cities. 
Adams made the necessary mechanical adjustments for Parise to add late
movement to his pitches and most importantly, was patient with his student as
Pete got used to the new style and was trying things out with the game on the
line.  13 saves and a 2.23 ERA later and
the student moved on to the Florida State League. 

“The biggest jump was to AAA because the hitters are just
better,” Pete told me over the phone from his hotel room in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  “They’re actually kind of annoying because
they’re too patient at the plate.”  It
may be his most challenging level of organized ball, but he’s treating the
opponent the same way he has since signing. 
In 11 appearances spanning 11 innings, he’s 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA while
getting ground ball out after ground ball out and holding the opposition to a
.244 batting average.  After his first
Winter Ball experience in Columbia
this past offseason, he came into spring training feeling great and is enjoying
this rise up through the Cardinals system.

Not once in our conversation did we talk about what it would
be like to play in the majors, but he’s not shy asking teammates Jess Todd and
Clayton Mortensen for their advice on how to get his hands on the big league
spread.  For now, he’s sampling the grub
down South eating catfish and gumbo for the first time and putting down a ½
rack of ribs from Blue City Café.  “We
were in New Orleans
yesterday (6/30) and there was a big bag of crawfish in the clubhouse.  I crushed that.”

The way Pete’s going, he’s going to be crushing the
post-game meal at Busch Stadium sooner than anyone expected – even Buddy Paine.

Stay up to date on Pete Parise by going to his player page –
http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?pos=P&sid=milb&t=p_pbp&pid=520868

Other notes:  Pete has
lived with Brett Wallace for 2 years and says “he’s legit” – as if Cardinals
fans needed to hear any more reassurance about their first round pick from
2008.  Also, the Memphis Grizzlies
drafted Parise’s friend from college – Sam Young – who threw out the first
pitch at the Memphis Redbirds game on 6/26 – http://memphis.redbirds.milb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090630&content_id=5617874&vkey=news_t235&fext=.jsp&sid=t235

I’m off to St.
Louis on Thursday for the All-Star Game festivities
and will be there through the 15th – then back in the MLB.com
studios on the 17th. 

2 quotes for you since it’s been a while since the last post

“A hot dog at the ball game beats roast beef at the
Ritz.” – Humphrey Bogart  

“As I grow older, I pay less attention to what people say. I
just watch what they do.” – Andrew Carnegie