player profile In this issue’s ESSL (European Slowpitch Softball League) interviews, Marc Stein introduces us to Jason Parker and Rafael Ferrer. Jason Parker plays in the ESSL on the Bad News Bombers, holding down both first base and catching duties. At the age of 43, he lives in Reichenbach-Steegen, Germany, with the “love of my life, my wife, Trisha,” and their two children, Josh and Lakyn. Parker is active duty US Air Force and has been serving his country for 24 years, having played softball throughout his life over varied associations at the C, B, A and Major levels of the sport. Though he has earned and been awarded various individual titles as well as been on teams who have also won championships, Parker finds “more” to the game since playing in the ESSL. “Being a part of the ESSL has been awesome! I appreciate the opportunity to help people from different countries learn about softball and also provide assistance to them on how to improve their game,” says Parker. “I love the passion and willingness to learn and try hard all of the time that so many people here have. It also has reminded me of how good we, as Americans, have it compared to other people in other countries. Many countries are still very poor and municipalities and individuals cannot afford equipment or fields, much less maintenance and all that goes with running a complex. The ESSL has given us a platform to not only showcase our softball talent but to show others that we truly care about people and give back to the game. We have been able to provide equipment, shoes, and clothes to those who may not have the resources or access to the stuff we do. “And the coolest part is they have never asked for it nor have they expected it, but they sure have appreciated it. When a child or young man or woman gives you a hug and says thank you with tears in their eyes, you know it is genuine. I just love seeing the smiles on their faces and watching them play the game as hard as they can while treating each other with dignity and respect. At the end of the day it’s just a game, but sometimes we are able to reach people and teach or mentor life lessons through the game. And sometimes, we just simply make new friends.” Playing all over the continent of Europe requires quite a bit more preparation than going across town or even across states, but Parker and the family make it about just that - family. “Playing softball in Europe gets a little expensive with the travel but I manage my money well,” says Parker. “My wife and kids support me because they know how passionate I am about the game. They are my biggest fans and they also let me know when I don’t perform up to their expectations! When our schedules permit, my family travels with me, which makes it more fun for me, too.” When someone with a lifetime of softball games is asked to list their top five moments, it’s often amazing to read the clarity of the memories, and Parker is no different in this respect. “My number one memory would have to be my rookie year on the All-Air Force and All-Armed Forces teams in 1997,” recalls Parker. “We won the Gold medal at the Armed Forces tournament and finished second at the ASA Major Nationals (the best the Armed Forces men’s team has ever done). We finished with the same record as the All-Navy team, 6-3, but we won the Gold on the tie-breaker as we had beaten them two out of three games. At Nationals, we lost on Saturday, which meant we had to fight our way back through the losers’ bracket on Sunday. We played eight games on Sunday and just ran out of gas in the championship game against Long Hual/TPS. I think we earned the Armed Forces a ton of respect during that tournament because a lot of the fans were cheering ‘U-S-A’ for us during the games. My best softball memories ever! “Second would be in 2002. We were one out away from being run-ruled in the Gold medal game at the Armed Forces championships, managing to fight our way back after being way down. In the bottom of the eighth inning we were down by only one run; I was leading off and we only had one home run left and my coach asked me to not hit it out, as I had hit three home runs that game already and reached the limit. I told him to relax, and that I was going to hit it up the middle and let my buddy Scott Harris hit it out for the game-winning, two-run home run. I hit a single up the middle and then Scott hit a single into right center. Ben Sotomayor followed with another single and I scored from second base to tie the game. The coach put a fast pinch-runner (Will) in for Scott, who was at second, and Josh Wiggs came in and hit another single and Will scored the game-winning run and we captured the Gold medal in dramatic fashion. Such a great team effort! “Third would be in 1998, when I got to play on one of the best teams I have ever seen assembled. Our All-Air Force team that year was incredible with talent. We also had a bunch of goofy characters as well, and that made it that much more enjoyable. During the Armed Forces tournament, we completely dominated the other services and finished with an 8-1 record and a team batting average of .705! The team batted .705 for the tournament. How many teams can claim that stat? “Fourth was when we put our McGuire AFB team in the NSA Military ‘A’ Worlds. We were playing Lackland AFB, who was one of the favorites to win the tournament, and they walked Pauly Hackett in front of me intentionally twice to load the bases and both times I hit grand slams! I am not sure what their rationale was, because their coach, Sal Flores, was my project officer on the All-Air Force team and a good friend of mine who knew I could hit the long ball. Nevertheless, it backfired on them and we won the game and the tournament. “Five would simply have to be all of the friends I have made over the years, the places I have been fortunate enough to travel to and the fun times I have had at the tournaments with everyone.” Parker, who plans on playing the game for as long as his body allows him to get up and go and as long as it is fun for him, has a deep passion for the game - a passion that he loves to share. As a military ball player, there is a deeper commitment to lead by example as the player is not just representing a team or an industry manufacturer, but his country. Giving back to the game and respecting it is a key that Parker feels is imperative to the survival and growth of the slowpitch game and personally takes it upon himself to lead by example, especially for a league such as the ESSL, which has many new and upcoming players. “Leading by example is always the most important way to lead,” insists Parker. “I feel you cannot ask nor expect people to conduct themselves a certain way if you are not willing to do it yourself. Therefore, when you go to a tournament or anywhere for that matter, you should always conduct yourself in a professional manner while treating everyone with dignity and respect. You also have to have fun and a good sense of humor because if things in life are not fun, then why do them? “Softball has been an awesome venue for me to meet new people from all over the world and I have had the opportunity to play against some of the best athletes the sport has to offer. It’s a cool fraternity to belong to and no matter where you go, you will find someone with the same interest in the sport as you have. It has also enabled me to make some of the best friends I have. Specifically, to the ESSL, it has given me the opportunity to share my passion for the game with other countries and people of all ages. I love helping people learn how to hit better and play their positions properly and then watching them perform and improve, get excited about the game and have fun.” A multi-sport player growing up, Parker participated in baseball, football and ice hockey and notes that his love was truly the contact competitions. “I sometimes wish I would have pursued them more seriously,” he says, “but life dealt me a different hand and I ran with it.” And the sport of softball is better for that decision.
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