There isn't much in terms of memorabilia at Sachem High School North to show that Mike Parisi once played ball for the Flaming Arrows. He's too young to have his jersey retired. He's too modest to care.
For those baseball nerds following the rumor mills this early in the season, you probably read that Parisi was put through the Rule-5 ring-around this week. After the Chicago Cubs selected him in the Rule-5 Draft in late 2009, Parisi, 26, had a shot to make their 25-man roster. It didn't work out thanks to a 7.45 ERA in seven spring training outings. Because of the hairy Rule-5 stipulations Parisi was optioned to the minors, then cleared waivers and was offered the chance to be a free agent because it was the second time he was outrighted. Follow? Long story short … the Cubs signed him to their Triple-A affiliate in Iowa.
It was a long, strange and weird journey, but it's not the last you'll hear of Parisi, who is a viable option for the Cubs out of the bullpen down the stretch of the season – especially when teams expand to 40-man roster.
Long before Parisi was the talk of Cub nation for the last week of spring training, he was just a regular kid at Sachem. He didn't start out on the mound. It was third base and left field until he reached the varsity and Sachem coaches Bill Batewell and John Clark saw he could muscle the ball.
Batewell, one of Long Island's winningest high school baseball coaches of all-time, said Parisi was a gamer and Sachem's, "Monday guy, our No. 1. He was that kind of guy."
Clark said Parisi, who graduated in 2001 from Sachem, reached his peak in high school during a playoff game against Bay Shore his senior year.
"We went into extra innings and won it in the ninth and Mike was cruising along against a real good club," he said. "He said 'I got 'em.' He realized them that he could do it. Everyone has a moment when they're a young man and that was his moment when he thought he might be able to fulfill his dream of being a major league pitcher."
It wasn't a cut and dry situation. He wasn't close to being drafted out of high school and never thought of it. There was still travel ball, college games and plenty of scouting before he would reach the majors.
Lou Petrucci, who is the head baseball coach at Ward Melville High School, coached Parisi on the Bayside Yankees and spoke volumes about his work ethic being on par with professionals. Petrucci would know. He also coached Steve Matz, who was drafted in the second round last year by the New York Mets.
"He doesn't ask questions and doesn't second-guess people," Petrucci said. "He's the one willing to learn and do the extra work."
In a day and age in baseball where pitching coaches over-analyze and counteract pitchers with their own haphazard tweaks and nuances, Parisi has managed to use constructive criticism positively.
Long Island native Craig Hansen, who has been up and down between the majors and minors with the Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates the last few seasons, admits that his career has taken a turn for the worse because he listened too much in the early stages of his career. For some, it works.
"Work ethic is huge," said Parisi, who is mindful of balancing what coaches say and what he produces on the field. "I might not have the best stuff, but I will work harder than everyone else. I'm the first here and the last to leave."
Bringing psychology into the game, Parisi makes it a daily routine to think about baseball – even if it's just for a few minutes in the off-season. It's not Freud, but it makes sense.
"If you're thinking about baseball, then your mind and body will be in a baseball mode," he said earlier this month from Mesa, Arizona, where the Cubs have spring training.
His mental attitude developed in high school but grew stronger during his college years, which were spent on campus at Manhattan College. He was close to being with Hansen at St. John's University and considered Seton Hall, but eventually settled on the Jaspers when former pitching coach Tom Sowinkski, who played three seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1970s, offered him a full-ride.
With more time to workout in college, Parisi, a right-handed pitcher, increased his velocity to the low 90's. He still doesn't forget his 11.36 ERA during the fall of his freshman season – a number instilled in his mind forever.
"I took my stat sheet and put it on the bottom of the top bunk and looked at that everyday I woke up," he said. "I highlighted my stats. Every day I woke up, got out of bed and made myself better. Even if it was something small or having a good lift, it makes you better."
There was no downward spiral after the awful spring. Instead, Parisi righted all of his wrongs and finished his career as one of the more successful Jasper pitchers of all time. "It was the power fastball," said Kevin Leighton, the current head coach at Manhattan, who was an assistant there when Parisi played. "He also always had a very good slider."
He's second in career strikeouts (272), ninth in career wins (14), eighth in complete games (7), sixth in career saves (5), ninth in games started (32) and sixth in innings pitched (243.2).
He was at home in Lake Grove when he got the call about being selected in the ninth round of the 2004 MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. He was just the second player in Sachem history to be drafted by a big league team behind Neal Heaton, who played a number of years for various teams. It was an emotional time, of course, but then reality set in that he'd have to compete with about 200 other players to make one of the affiliate teams.
Parisi won a Florida State League title with the Palm Beach Cardinals, then played the 2006 season with the Springfield Cardinals and was the winning pitcher in the first game played at the new Busch Stadium when the Double-A and Triple-A teams squared off against one another.
It was a straightforward move up the ladder for Parisi, who made it to Triple-A by the 2007 season and was eventually called up to the big league club later that year in a previous Rule-5 move. He saw his first action May 5, 2008.
Facing Colorado's Matt Herges during his first appearance, Parisi struck him out in front of 40,000 at Coors Field.
Obviously it was no easy task since the Cardinals were on the road, but what made it more difficult was that Parisi was a starter in the minor leagues and was suddenly asked to come out of the bullpen for his debut.
"That's a long run out of the bullpen in Colorado," he joked. "I was winded when I got to the mound. It was a time where I needed to rely on my work, mental preparation and calm myself down."
Parisi said his real "welcome to the big league moment" was when he faced Matt Holliday the same day. "He was the first guy where I said, 'wow,' I see him on ESPN every day."
He pitched in 12 games that season and went 0-4 with an 8.22 ERA. That August he underwent Tommy John Surgery, which he recovered from and increased his velocity to about 95-96 mph on a good day. It still wasn't enough for the Cardinals to keep him around.
If you're a baseball fan you probably put two-and-two together to figure out that Parisi has played for Tony LaRussa and if he gets called up to the Cubs, will play for Lou Pinella – two legends on a different level than most in the baseball world. Parisi said it's been a thrill to learn from both and a great treat to pick Greg Maddux's – now in the front office of the Cubs – brain during spring training this year.
Famous players and big league thrills aside, Parisi made it clear he's been given a gift and plans to use it.
"I like any type of challenge. I don't know if I'm going to be a starter in Chicago or not. If I make a big league roster, then I could less how they use me. I just want to get some more time in the majors."