Versatile Parker a Key Cog for Hopedale Nine

KEN HAMWEY Staff Sports Writer
Photos by Steve Bassignani
Issue Date: 
April, 2018
Article Body: 

Sam Parker’s versatility no doubt will play a key role if Hopedale High’s baseball team is to win its third Dual Valley Conference title in the last four years. And, if a district championship is to be celebrated again, as it was in Parker’s freshman year in 2015, then the senior co-captain will again need to be a motivating factor and a prime contributor.
During his three varsity seasons, the 6-foot, 195-pound left-hander has hit over .300 all three years, had a standout sophomore year on the mound and has been a superb fielder, whether he’s at first base or in the outfield. He’s been a two-time DVC all-star and was also selected as the Bluer Raiders’ Unsung Hero as a sophomore.
The Hopedale native, who can hit for power or aim for singles and doubles, owns batting averages of .429, .369 and .375. And, although he experienced a sub-par season on the mound as a junior, he was dynamic as a sophomore, compiling a 4-3 record and a 2.00 earned-run average.
“Last year, with nine seniors on our team, Sam didn’t defer to them for leadership,’’ coach Josh Crescenzi said. “He wasn’t a captain but he still was a leader, constantly motivating players and supporting their efforts. Sam can play the outfield, first base or pitch. And, if needed, he could be our catcher. He’s a patient hitter but he can also be aggressive. He’s pitched in big games and he’s always up for a challenge.’’
Parker, who’s a two-time National Honor Society student, has a plethora of strengths and what makes him so capable is his ability to adapt. Flexibility is his calling card.
“As a pitcher, I focus on control and placement,’’ Parker said. “If I’ve made a bad pitch or a run has scored, I concentrate on bouncing back. I try to block out distractions. At the plate, I strive for contact if we’re in a tight game. If we’re down a few runs and have runners on base, then I’ll use power.’’
Parker’s strengths include speed, keen hand-eye coordination, a high baseball IQ, a penchant to excel in pressure situations, and knowledge of the strike zone. “I can improve as a hitter by limiting my anxiety on a good pitch. I sometimes get overly aggressive on my swing and have to learn to be more patient.’’
Parker showed lots of patience in Hopedale’s season opening-win last year against Douglas. His first at-bat of the season was an inside-the park home run and he finished with two hits and three runs-batted-in.
“My best game on the mound came as a sophomore against Abington,’’ Parker recalled. “We had a long bus ride but we won, 5-1. I pitched a two-hitter, struck out seven and went the distance.’’
Relying on a fastball, change-up and a sharp-dropping curve, Parker rates Hopedale’s district title as his top thrill in baseball. “I was only a freshman but it was great to be part of a close-knit team,’’ he said. “It was cool to see all our hard work come together for a 2-1 win over Oxford at Holy Cross.’’
Parker’s goal for the Blue Raiders this season includes daily improvement that will lead to qualifying for the districts. “It’s realistic,’’ he said, “in spite of being a young team. We’ve got players who’ll work hard and if we jell, we’ll do some damage. As for me, my goals are to hit over .400, get my E.R.A. under 2.00 and knock in 15 or more runs.’’
A captain who’ll lead by example and by being positive, Parker is upbeat about Hopedale’s other captain — Jonathan Rice, who had an 8-0 record as a freshman before Tommy John surgery forced him to the sidelines. “I’m excited to see Jonathan return to pitching,’’ Parker said. “He’s all business — able to get strikeouts and maintain control. Another player who’ll be a key for us is junior Chris Brunt. He’s a pitcher-infielder who loves to compete. He works hard and he throws hard.’’
Parker also is bullish on his coach, admiring his demeanor. “Coach Crescenzi knows when to have fun and when to get down to business,’’ Parker indicated. “He’s passionate about baseball, focused, motivating and he cares about his players.’’
Parker, who was a running back/linebacker in football, also competed in track in the 50, shot put and 200 relay. A DVC all star in both of those sports, he has yet to decide on a college venue but he’s hoping to play baseball at that level.
Calling his parents (Amy and Chris) role models for their support, encouragement and work ethic, Parker’s competitive philosophy stresses reaching one’s potential and enjoying the athletic journey. “If those things occur, then winning will follow,’’ he said. “Sports also teach life lessons and I’ve learned how to bounce back from difficult situations, how to set meaningful goals and to work hard.’’
Sam Parker may be only 17 years old but his mature outlook, character and demeanor should go a long way in helping the Blue Raiders’ enjoy more baseball success in 2018. The season opener is at home on April 6 against Nipmuc.