James Parker’s relationship with baseball began at the age of 4 in the Anderson YMCA T-ball league, and his love for the game only grew from there.
Now, after getting picked by the Seattle Mariners in the 8th round of the 2021 MLB Draft, Parker can officially say he is a professional baseball player.
“It’s a dream come true,” Parker said. “It still doesn’t even feel real, but it’s just exciting to know all the work I’ve put in over the years is paying off.”
But before he became Anderson’s newest pro athlete, Parker became a legend at T.L. Hanna High School. He got called up from JV to varsity as an 8th grader and delivered the first of his school-record 131 hits in his very first start.
“You saw the makeup of the kid, you saw the work ethic, you saw the God-given talent that he had … you just knew he was going to be a special talent,” Hanna head coach Daniel Crenshaw said.
Parker then became a 4-year starter at shortstop for the Yellow Jackets, where he led the team to 3 district titles and a pair of appearances in the Upstate Championship. He also set school records for hits in a season (42) and career (131), singles in a career (95), doubles in a career (25) and fielding assists in a season (71) and career (232), among others. He was named all-region four times and all-state as a senior.
“What was different about him was that he had a different gear,” Crenshaw said. “Whenever he wanted to, he could flip a switch and he would be the best player on the field.”
Parker said he loved his time at Hanna and felt like he really grew as a player there thanks to his teammates and coaches. His favorite memory was beating Northwestern his senior year to win the District III Championship.
Soon after that, he entered the Hanna record books in style. In his second-to-last high school game in the 2018 Upstate championship against Dorman, Parker hit a grand slam to become the school’s all-time leader in hits. Hanna won that game but lost the deciding championship game, bringing Parker’s high school career to an end.
“It was a pretty special way to end my career,” Parker reflected. “I was super blessed to be able to go to Hanna. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Crenshaw feels equally fortunate to have been able to coach someone of Parker’s caliber.
“He’s a phenomenal young man,” Crenshaw said. “He showed up, he worked hard every day. He was never bigger than the team. I loved being around him.”
From Hanna, Parker stayed in the area and went to Clemson, where his dad Tim pitched and was drafted out of in 1990. He never made it to the majors, but Parker said having him as a mentor is a huge reason why he is where he is today.
“He showed me at a young age how to play the game the right way,” Parker said. “I just think it was probably one of the biggest blessings of my life that he knew how to play it right and he taught me when I was growing up that way.”
Parker said the adjustment to the Division I college level was tough, and that resulted in a less-than-stellar freshman season in 2019. But he used the next year’s pandemic-shortened season and offseason to get better. He worked out with Clemson teammates Logan Davidson and Carson Spiers during quarantine, and they helped him improve in the mental and physical aspects of baseball.
“That matured me a lot more than I would have if I was playing,” Parker said. “Fall came around, and I just felt like I was ready to have a good year.”
He had a very good year, batting .324 with 8 home runs, 38 RBIs and a .911 OPS. He earned second-team All-ACC honors and started to hear a lot of buzz around his name ahead of the draft.
Parker said he met with a bunch of teams following the season, and he had a pretty good idea he would go sometime late in Day 2, which he did, but had no idea who would pick him. He said he was pleasantly surprised when the Mariners selected him because he’s heard great things about their system and Adam Hill, his former teammate at Hanna, is with the organization, currently pitching in Double-A.
Parker hasn’t officially signed yet, but he is going out to Arizona for his team physical and plans to sign soon. He’s a natural shortstop but said he will play anywhere he is needed in the infield.
Parker is following in the footsteps of Hall of Famer Jim Rice as a Hanna grad headed for the major leagues, and he couldn’t be more excited.
“All the hard work I’ve put in is coming together,” Parker said. “Obviously there’s still a lot more work to be put in, but just to get the opportunity, that’s all I could really ask for. Now, it’s up to me with what I can do with it. It’s just exciting. I’m super thankful really.”