by Andrew Parks
With my playing career officially complete, I wanted to look back and share my experiences in baseball and how they’ve impacted who I am today and who I want to become. I always dreamed at a young age that I wanted to play collegiate baseball, but I never could have imagined where it would have taken me many years later. My hope is that my story can urge you to follow your dreams on the diamond and relentlessly work to make them a reality.
Growing up, baseball was always something I loved to do. Going to practice was my favorite time of the day. I loved hanging out with some of my best friends, seeing my skills progress, and competing in games. I spent my weekends practicing at the park and in the backyard with my dad and brother. If I learned anything from those years, I learned how to show up and work hard - even though it never really felt like hard work because I loved to do it.
I got my first reality dose of baseball my freshman year of high school when I was cut from the junior varsity baseball team. I was crushed as I went to all the workouts, hitting sessions, and did everything I could to give myself the best chance to make the team. It would be the first spring where I wasn’t able to play with my friends as they instead were all playing on the junior varsity team. I felt like I was beside myself. I knew I wanted to play college baseball, but I had no idea how I could possibly make it happen.
That’s when I found Carmen. That spring, my dad told me to hop in the car and we’d drive to check out this place called Carmen Fusco Pro Baseball Academy. I was uncomfortable and hesitant at first as I had some previous private instruction going into my freshman year. When we learned that we could train year round and get professional level instruction, we took the chance and spent that year training with Carmen and his staff.
Throughout my first few sessions, I realized I had a long way to go. I had never trained before like the way they did at Carmen’s. I found out that some stuff I had heard from coaches growing up wasn’t accurate - which I had a tough time swallowing. I had zero confidence in my abilities and I had no idea where to find confidence. I tried my best with what I had most days, but early on it was a struggle to put it together. I was an introvert in a completely different facility with people and faces I had never seen before. I didn’t say much of anything to anyone.
Along with training, I decided to join a team Carmen was putting together for the summer. At these practices, I got my first glimpse of what Carmen was on a baseball field. He was tough, demanding, and taught things I had never even heard of before. I felt like a fish out of water trying to keep up with the older and more polished players. I couldn’t believe what I had gotten myself into, but there was no going back at this point. If I wanted to play college baseball, I knew Carmen was going to be able to get me there.
Over time, I started to figure some things out. The ball started coming off my bat a little bit better. I was becoming more comfortable and making friends at our team practices. I was starting to build some confidence in my abilities with some more consistent training. I realized how important confidence actually was when it came to baseball. I didn’t feel completely out of my comfort zone anymore and I was starting to believe I was a decent player. It was far from a finished product, but it was a much-needed glimmer of hope in my baseball career. The next spring, I ended up making the junior varsity team as a sophomore and starting at shortstop on opening day. It is one of the proudest moments of my baseball career to this day.
I continued to work and train over the next year trying to take the next step to prepare myself to play collegiately. I started to lift weights seriously in the fall and winter of my junior year with my pitching coach Corey Thurman. We would go twice a week at 6 a.m. before school started, sometimes three times. While I had dabbled with lifting before in the past, my time with Corey was the first time I really got after it and started to push around some weight with a structured plan. I started to eat more and put some weight onto my 140-pound frame. I felt my training was paying off and I was starting to look at colleges - and then it all seemed to all fall apart when I was cut from the varsity team my junior year.
While getting cut my freshman year stung, this one hurt really bad. I thought I had done all the right things and prepared myself as best as I could, but now it felt like I was back to square one again with no hopes of playing college baseball. Like my freshman year, all of my friends would be playing baseball this spring and I would be searching for answers yet again - and this time I was running out of time.
If I didn’t have the support system that I had at the time, I’m not sure if I would have kept playing. I was embarrassed, humiliated, and would have to spend yet another spring watching my friends from the stands. However, I knew I couldn’t let everyone down that had helped me get to that point. I had come too far to throw everything away and let other people dictate my dreams. When I found out that I had been cut from the varsity team, I was in the gym the next morning at 6 a.m. with Corey. It was time to get back to work.
Over the next year, I trained harder than I ever had before. I was hitting in Carmen’s and taking ground balls all summer long at his baseball camps. I was hitting the weights with Corey and getting my arm in shape for games. Everything I did that year had two end goals in mind - make the varsity team next spring and find a college to play at next year. There were good days, bad days, and plenty of days where I didn’t feel like showing up and putting in work. Whenever I didn’t feel like doing what I needed to do, I remembered how bad it felt to be on the outside looking in last spring. That was all I needed to keep pushing forward.
That winter, I was able to take one of those monkeys off of my back when I decided to attend Medaille College in the fall. I loved the opportunity it presented in the Buffalo area and it felt like a place I could really flourish at. I was very excited for the road ahead, but I knew I had one more obstacle to tackle - and it scared me.
When tryouts came around, I knew I was as prepared as I was going to be. It’s difficult preparing for a tryout because you want to be at your very best each day, but sometimes you’re a little off here or there. Every time you slip up makes you worry about what the coaches are thinking and if that could be the straw that gets you cut again. It can be a nerve-wracking process and it’s something that I had to learn how to deal with the hard way. If I was going to get my chance at varsity, I was going to have to face my fears and show the coaches I could play.
Making the varsity team that spring is something that I’m still proud of to this day. Being able to finish out my high school career on the diamond with some of my best friends is something I’ll never forget. The year had its ups and downs, but it proved to me that I could face and conquer my fears if I put my head down, worked hard, and never gave up. It was an experience that would help prepare me for the next four years of my life. While it didn’t play out the way I had hoped going into high school, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
My freshman year of college opened me up to what it’s like to play Division III baseball. While it’s not DII or DI, I quickly learned that these guys could play. If I wanted to compete with them, I had to take my training to a completely different level. I hadn’t earned the right to play with those guys my freshman year. Showing up, going through the same stuff, and not practicing the mindset on a daily basis prevented me from competing with confidence. The game speeds up big time when you get to college and I simply wasn’t ready to handle it.
The summer going into my sophomore year is when I started to take ownership of my training. I started working at Carmen’s part-time as a coach. After seeing what he did to me as a high school player, I wanted to get into it myself and do the same for others. It helped spark a curiosity for learning that I still carry to this day. On the field, I began to own the mindset as a player and practice it in games. I became obsessed with learning about great players and coaches and what separated them from the rest. Through this, I realized that there was so much that I had left on the table throughout high school. Going forward, I would exhaust every resource out there and use them to become the best player and coach I could possibly be. My winters would no longer be spent going through monotonous workouts and playing video games. They would be spent learning, growing, and dedicating myself to a training process that would get the most out of myself physically and mentally on the diamond.
I felt better and more confident than I ever had before going into my sophomore year of college. I completely changed how I trained and became a student of the game absorbing as much as I could. I started off the year well and earned my first career collegiate start, a game in which I wish I would have thrown a little better. I earned another start but ended up performing horribly and did not see the mound for the rest of the season. I was devastated as I had worked so hard to create opportunities for myself that season but in the end, I could not capitalize on them.
This was a tough point in my career because I knew I was better than what I was showing on the field. It sends you into a spiral of negative thinking causing you to doubt and question your abilities. The love of the game is sucked out of you and you suffer as a player and a teammate. Instead of being supportive and embracing the grind, you selfishly try to find ways where you can earn opportunities again. After changing the way I trained and taking my game to the next level, I had nothing but failed opportunities to show for it.
I ended up getting buried under the depth chart going into my junior year and had lost a lot of confidence in my game. While I continued to learn and grow, I couldn’t seem to put it together on the mound as I had in the past. After months of compensating and adjusting, I began to figure some things out again and took advantage of a few opportunities early on in the season.
My first real opportunity since my last start sophomore year came on the road against a nationally ranked team in LaRoche College. With much of our pitching depleted, I was given a start in the second half of our doubleheader against LaRoche. Using what I had learned over the course of the last two years, I was able to battle through six innings of work leaving the game with an opportunity to get the win. While we could not finish off the game, it was a breakthrough moment in my career. It taught me the importance of competing with confidence, overcoming adversity, and not letting previous performances dictate my future appearances. After 2.5 years of trial, error, hard work, and heartbreaks, I finally believed I could compete and win at this level.
While the rest of our season did not finish as we would have liked, I took my new sense of confidence into the summer and ended up winning pitcher of the year for the York Central League. I took this into my senior year ready to give it one more run on the baseball field. I picked up hitting again for the first time since my senior year of high school, but my first few at-bats of the season reminded me how hitting isn’t as easy as it seems sometimes. My first six at-bats of the season all ended in strikeouts - sending me into a negative spiral of fear and doubt. Facing the same demons I once used to battle as a young hitter growing up, I had to trick myself into being a good hitter again. Instead of believing the negativity my mind was feeding me, I picked myself up and in my seventh at-bat delivered the game-winning RBI in extra innings for our team’s third win of the season.
The rest of my senior season didn’t end as well as we had hoped. While it’s easy to sit back and point fingers, we just didn’t get the job done and it was a disappointing feeling to know we couldn’t make playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. As a senior, you want to go out in a way that really culminates the hard work that you’ve put in over four years as a collegiate baseball player. It was tough to swallow this at times but to me, it wasn’t a fair representation of our senior class and what we brought to the table. Between all six of us, we made incredible contributions to the baseball program, our school, and the Medaille community as a whole. It makes me proud when other people look at us and say the next class coming through has some big shoes to fill.
Playing college baseball has easily been the best decision I have ever made in my life. It taught me how to work hard, dominate the classroom, become a student of the game, make a positive impact on others, and ultimately become a mentor to those who once stood in my shoes. It helped me build lifelong friendships, create unforgettable memories, and drive an incredible experience that I would have never had a chance to live out if it weren’t for baseball. It taught me the pain of failure and how to courageously face your fears. Nothing has taught me more about life than baseball - and quite honestly, I don’t think there’s anything out there that teaches you more about life than baseball. For all the hardships, heartbreaks, and failures I’ve experienced playing, those moments of success where you feel on top of the world make it all worth it. The difference between those who dream about them and those who make them happen is the work that you put in. Nothing in this world can replace hard work.
Going forward, I couldn’t be more excited to start my journey as a coach and mentor to those who aspire to get the most out of their abilities through the game of baseball. You don’t have to play in high school, college, or any kind of level to determine whether or not you had a successful baseball career. If you can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and know you gave it your very all to become the best player you could possibly be, you were a success. I know there are people out there like I once was who have no confidence, no direction, and no hope when it comes to their dreams on the diamond. You are not alone. If I could do it, you can do it - and I can help you.
I look forward to the challenges ahead as a coach. I know for sure that my playing days have prepared me for whatever comes my way in the future and I embrace it. Coaches like Carmen and Corey have forever changed my life and are the reason why I want to do the same for others. Being a coach and a mentor to young men and women is a privilege. I won’t take a single day for granted.
Thanks for taking the time to read my story. It’s not glamorous, but it’s something I’m proud of and it’s the reason why I want to turn a children’s game into a career. I’ve been given a wonderful opportunity to positively impact individuals through the game of baseball. It would be my greatest failure in life if I did not take advantage of this.