Gallagher column: Parnell riding wave of success

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 6, 2008

We used to know him as Bobby Parnell, the country boy, who looked forward to hitting the Gas-n-Go convenience store in Granite Quarry for a hotdog and a Cheerwine.
Then, he was drafted and became a professional baseball player.
Now, he’s Bobby Parnell, surfer dude.
Well, kinda.
Baseball has given Parnell, an East Rowan graduate, a tour of the United States. He has pitched for teams in places like St. Lucie, Brooklyn, New Orleans and Binghamton.
However, he loves to tell the story of pitching for two months in a winter league based in Hawaii.
“I went to a couple of luaus,” he drawled, “and I took surfing lessons. “I just hung out, man.”
Hanging out is basically what Parnell did once he was called up to the New York Mets last month. The team was involved in an intense pennant race so he saw limited action: six appearances and five innings pitched.
He did get a taste of big-league life, something he’d love to continue. And the bet here is, he will. The first step began Saturday when he left his parents’ Barger Road home and headed to an instructional league in Arizona for a month-and-a-half.
“(The Mets) said when I come to spring training, they don’t know whether I’ll be starting or be in the bullpen,” Parnell said. “Just getting to be up there with them in a pennant race was an honor. It’s definitely an experience I won’t forget. It shows they had a little faith in me.”

Parnell was home last week for a few days. He spent his time like you’d expect a country boy from Rowan County to: duck hunting, visiting grandma and grandpa, seeing high school buddies and playing golf.
And surely, there was a Cheerwine or two swallowed.
We caught up with Parnell at a Salisbury softball field, watching brother Adam play in a church league. Parnell was the only one in the park wearing a Mets pullover.
Just seeing “Mets” on the front of it brought back memories of the final day of the regular season when New York lost to the Florida Marlins, completing a collapse from first place in the NL East for the second straight year. The Mets not only lost the East title, but any chance of a wild-card berth.
“I’d never been in a situation like that,” Parnell said. “Everybody took it pretty hard.”

Parnell hurt for his new teammates because of how they treated him.
“There are so many good guys on that team, it’s amazing,” he said. “They’ll reach out to you. They lended me a lot of advice.”
Some of the advice included the fans and the media.
“The fans will let you know how you did,” Parnell grinned. “I made four appearances in Shea Stadium and was booed in one of them.”
That was the night he walked a man and then gave up a broken-bat single. As he walked back to the dugout after being relieved, the fans let him have it.
“I knew it was coming,” he laughed. “I didn’t mind too much. At least, I’m there.”
Parnell remembers his first major-league appearance in Washington.
“It’s a different feeling,” he said. “Everybody’s looking at you. I go out there and either get the coaches on my good side or just be another guy in the pen. My adrenaline was definitely rushing.”
It took only eight pitches to get three outs.
“I felt like I had a 100 pounds off my shoulders,” he said.
Parnell also can say he struck out Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee. As bad as the Mets bullpen was the final month, the media had to notice, right? He was asked if the New York media ever swarmed his locker.
“No,” he said emphatically, “which is a good thing because they’re always looking for bad stories. I figured if there weren’t 100 people at my locker, I was doing well.”

Parnell said that after four years in the minors, his Mets’ stint was nothing short of heaven. His first major-league eye-opener came in Milwaukee shortly after joining the team.
“There were stained wood lockers,” he said. “Everything’s bigger, better and cleaner. There are people standing behind you asking, ‘You need anything?’ ”
But the money, Bobby. The money.
“I think maybe now, playing one month in the big leagues, I’ve made minimum wage over the last four years,” he chuckled. “I don’t have a lot but I got a little lump there in the last month. There were a couple of days I went to Manhattan looking around and seeing what I couldn’t afford.”

Parnell paused for a moment as Adam came to the plate for Gloria Dei.
“He said he hit a home run last week,” said Bobby, who then stayed after the game to get in a few throws with Adam.
Hopefully, the fireballing right-hander eased up on little brother. The radar gun has hit 99 mph in Double A, and he consistently fires in the mid-90s.
That 24-year-old arm will certainly start out in Triple A or with the big club next season. It’s mind-boggling to everyone around here who recalls Parnell as anything but a pitcher. That is, until Allen Wilson persuaded the Mets to draft him in the ninth round.
Now, Wilson, the former South Rowan Legion and East Rowan coach, looks like a genius. And Parnell doesn’t intend to let him down.
“I’ve had some breaks and some luck,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done the right things and kept my head on straight.”
If the breaks and the luck continue, Parnell may be in for a long and prosperous career. Which means he’ll owe Wilson big-time.
Hey, maybe during an offseason, he can take Wilson on a trip to Hawaii for a couple of luaus and some surfing … you know, just hang out, man.

Contact Ronnie Gallagher at 704-797-4287 or