Tate: Parrs have baseball in their blood
Parkland College, which knows something about winning baseball games, is pleased to lend its big brother a helping hand in that department.
The irony is that the hard-hitting Parr twins came through Parkland to the UI from different directions and played there in different seasons.
Justin Parr, now 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, is a late-developing, lefty-hitting outfielder who bats third in the UI lineup. The genes were always there — dad Cam played at Huntington College; mom Sue played tennis at Wesleyan — but it took his athletic heredity a little longer to kick in.
Junior Jordan Parr bats right, plays first base and was always considered the stronger of the two. College offers came his way while, in Justin's words, "They thought I was too small and not good enough. I always played whatever position was available because I could never beat out anyone at a position."
Some people, even coaches, now get them mixed up.
"Yeah," said Jordan, "Justin got a hit and I struck out, and after I went back to the bench, one of the coaches congratulated me. Coach (Eric) Snider likes to joke by calling me Josh or Jessica (sister)."
On one thing they agree: their relationship with God.
"Don't forget to mention that. We are open about our faith. We live for Christ," they echoed.
And don't forget to mention brother Josh Parr, who starred at shortstop for the Illini's Big Ten champions last year. He left after his junior year and is a second-year pro this season at Class A South Bend.
"I loved playing with Josh last season," Justin said. "I loved that team."
Even though Parkland has a strong baseball culture ... whoa, let's not slide over that. AD Rod Lovett, first of four successful baseball coaches, proudly reports a record of 996-366 (73 percent) since 1990, with national juco championships in 2002 and 2009, and three others that finished in the top five.
Parkland has had 21 players drafted in 20 years and, just since 2000, a list of 22 NJCAA All-Americans and 12 who played Division I baseball (three at Purdue).
Before the Parr twins, Mahomet pitcher Brad Wagers (1996) and Centennial outfielder Ken Crawford (1993-94) were the most recent Parkland products to join the UI baseball program.
As noted, the Parr twins took different routes. Justin was generally unrecruited at Chillicothe IVC and happy to land at Parkland.
"Check his driver's license," smiles UI coach Dan Hartleb. "He looks like he's 12 years old. There wasn't much interest in him out of high school."
Justin grew rapidly. He hit .378 for a 50-13 Parkland team in 2010, transferred immediately and, serving mostly as a DH, led the Big Ten (league games) in hitting with a .411 mark. He was a major force as the Illini tied for the regular season title, won the Big Ten tournament and reached the 2011 NCAA regional finals.
Jordan was highly recruited and took a scholarship at Illinois State, where an injury forced him to redshirt. He moved to Parkland as Justin was transferring to the UI, and he batted a solid .355 against juco pitching last year. At Illinois this season, he has started at first base in 43 straight games and is the UI's runaway leader in hitting with a .363 average.
"Jordan can rake," said his brother. "He always could."
On the move
The twins were in the center of a weekend 2-0, 5-4, 3-2 sweep at Northwestern that brought back reminders of the UI's incredible late streak a year ago. Once 3-6 in the Big Ten, the Illini are now 8-7 and in position to earn one of the six slots in the conference tournament.
In backing Kevin Johnson's shutout Friday, both Parrs were credited with multiple defensive sparklers in left field and first base, and Jordan singled and scored the first run. On Saturday, Jordan had two hits and Justin, who had slumped under .300, kept the line moving with two walks and a hit batsman in a 5-4 thriller. On Sunday, before the arrival of fireballing reliever Matt Milroy (11 whiffs among 20 outs), the Illini trailed 2-0. Jordan doubled in the first run. Then, in both the sixth and eighth innings, Justin stroked singles to chase Willie Argo to third base, and Brandon Hohl brought him home each time.
With Southern Illinois here today (6 p.m.) and a big Michigan State series on the weekend, Illinois Field will take center stage as the weather warms up in May. And Hartleb needs to milk everything possible out of the Parrs because, when professional baseball is mentioned, their eyes light up. Both are eligible for the draft.
Such is the life of Illini coaches in football, basketball and baseball. Just when we get to know their best players, they're gone for the money. This must rank among the most difficult aspects of their jobs.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.