Parr gracious in victory
MINNEAPOLIS — At the time, it baffled Dan Hartleb to no end.
How could his fellow Big Ten baseball coaches completely bypass the league’s batting champion in their postseason awards voting?
That was back in May 2011, when then-Illinois sophomore Justin Parr — who hit a scalding .411 in conference play — was nowhere to be found among the first, second or third All-Big Ten teams.
Although Hartleb remains mystified by that omission to this day, the Illini coach also now will be the first to say his coaching peers got it right when they selected Parr as the 2013 Big Ten Player of the Year.
“There were a handful of players that probably had an argument that they could have won the award,” Hartleb said Tuesday after the conference announced its postseason honors in the sport. “But I truly believe Justin deserves the award. ... The numbers he put up at both the Big Ten level and the national level, he deserves the award.”
Parr’s argument for POY includes a batting average of .415 that ranks third in the NCAA’s Division I. The senior center fielder also leads the conference in RBI (51), hits (85), on-base percentage (.472) and total bases (125) while ranking second in slugging percentage (.610) and triples (four).
It was a riveting hitting streak, however, that probably drew the most attention to Parr. From March 9 through May 11, he hit safely in 33 straight games — a school record and the second-longest hitting streak in the nation this season.
Parr is the eighth Illini to earn Big Ten Player of the Year honors in baseball and the first since catcher Lars Davis in 2007.
Parr’s reaction was typically humble.
“I was kind of blown away that I won,” the 2012 All-Big Ten third-teamer said.
Despite his impressive feats at the plate, Parr’s selection for POY was no shoo-in. In particular, catcher Kyle Schwarber of Big Ten champion Indiana had built a worthy case, too. Like Parr, Schwarber is a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy, which is annually awarded to the nation’s top player.
The Hoosiers sophomore leads the Big Ten in home runs and ranks third in batting average and RBI. He and Parr are dead even atop the league’s list for total bases.
“I thought it was going to be between me and him,” Parr said. “He had an unbelievable year. He’s a presence in the Big Ten everyone knows about, so I knew it was going to be tough. I’m just really thankful to have the opportunity to win.”
A three-year Illini starter after beginning his college career at Parkland College, Parr is on pace to become the 23rd player in program history to hit .400 for a season. He would be the first since Davis — now playing in the Colorado Rockies’ minor league system — hit .400 in 2007.
Parr also has excelled in the field. He has yet to commit an error in 49 games this season while recording 120 putouts and three assists.
In addition, Parr has made an impact on the bases, notching 14 steals in 17 attempts.
“He’s a complete player, not only from the standpoint of tracking down balls, but whether it’s outfield assists or people not running on him because of his ability to throw and get to balls quickly.
“Runs the base paths. RBI. On-base percentage. Everything that he has done is tremendous.”
Parr wasn’t the only Illini to win one of the four major awards in Big Ten baseball. Left-hander Kevin Duchene was selected Freshman of the Year. He is the second Illini to earn that honor, joining Bubba Smith (1989).
With an 8-1 record, Duchene is tied for the most wins in the Big Ten and has equaled the most victories by a freshman in UI history. His 2.67 ERA ranks eighth in the conference, while his 1.74 ERA in league games is the third best.
Although Duchene did not enter the Illini’s Big Ten starting rotation until the team’s fifth series, Hartleb had such confidence in the Joliet native that he put the freshman in the role of the Game 1 starter. Duchene has remained there since, going 3-0 in four league starts with a .218 opponent batting average.
“To me, that’s the most impressive thing,” Hartleb said of Duchene’s response to starting series openers. “Some guys can’t pitch in that No. 1 slot because they can’t handle it mentally. So not only did he have the physical (talent) but he had the mental portion of it and did a great job.”
In all, Illinois placed three players on the All-Big Ten first team, the program’s most since the 2005 conference champion Illini earned five first-team spots. Joining Parr were junior shortstop Thomas Lindauer and sophomore first baseman David Kerian.
In addition, two Illini were selected to the second team: Duchene and redshirt junior left fielder Jordan Parr.
Duchene was joined on the league’s All-Freshman Team by Illini catcher Jacob Goldstein. Duchene was a unanimous selection.
POY Roll Call
1987 Darrin Fletcher (C)
1989 Bubba Smith (1B/P)
1990 Mark Dalesandro (OF/C)
1996 Josh Klimek (SS)
1998 D.J. Svihlik (2B)
2005 Drew Davidson (CF)
2007 Lars Davis (C)
2013 Justin Parr (OF)