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Parker's unlikely success story proves where there's a Will, there's a way

It's not very difficult to figure out what makes sports fans happy. They like sudden-death playoffs and upsets in the NCAA Tournament. They like buzzer-beaters, slam dunks, quarterback sacks and grand slams. But there's nothing sports fans like more than a good underdog story.

The underdogs are the Kurt Warners of the world who rise from obscurity to shine on the field of competition. At this moment, one of those stories is unfolding right here in Charlottesville. While Virginia pitcher Will Parker never stocked shelves in a grocery store like the St. Louis Rams quarterback, his story is no less captivating.

After completing a solid high school pitching career in Suffolk, Va., Parker came to the University to pursue a career in sports medicine. Last year he became an assistant trainer for the Cav baseball team. In the meantime, his career on the field was limited to the occasional club baseball game and a men's summer league where most of the players topped 40 years of age.

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  • During the Cavalier season, though, Parker helped out at practice like his fellow trainers, shagging the occasional fly ball and throwing on the side to help pass the time from day to day. Even then, according to pitching coach Steve Whitmyer, he showed signs of the talent of a Division I pitcher.

    "Will was kind of like the nose in front of your face last year," Whitmyer said. "I probably looked at him last year but did not put two and two together."

    That didn't happen until January, when Parker began throwing batting practice.

    "I put the [radar] gun on him and saw that he was throwing as hard as a lot of our guys throw," Whitmyer said. "Within a week of watching him throw [batting practice], I knew we should get him activated."

    Parker got a spot on the team in time for Virginia's late-February series with Bucknell.

    "The first game I was just happy to get in uniform," the fourth-year Education student said. "It was a dream come true."

    That dream came with its fair share of pressure, though. In Parker's first appearance Feb. 26 against the Bison, he entered the game in the seventh inning with the bases loaded and no outs.

    "A million things were running through my head," Parker said. "I get up on the mound and my heart's about to pound through my chest. I see all these people watching and I could barely pick up the mitt."

    Parker did more than just pick up his glove; he retired the first two batters before the game was called because of darkness.

    Over the next few weeks, Parker pitched on a regular basis and performed well each time. He recorded his first victory March 2 at George Mason. In the following weeks, Parker won at VCU in relief and against Eastern Michigan in his first start. Although he didn't get a decision at N.C. State, he silenced the Wolfpack in a 3-2 Cavalier victory in what Whitmyer described as "probably our staff's best outing in ACC play."

    Parker still has a lot to learn, evidenced by his recent struggles against Wake Forest and top-ranked Florida State. But the unlikely star sees his lack of experience as an advantage.

    "I don't really know what to expect, and I think that's helped me a little bit," Parker said. "It could be the best hitter in the ACC at the plate and I wouldn't know it."

    Parker's hot start couldn't have come at a better time for the Cav pitching staff. Top starter Casey Kennedy transferred to Central Florida and Greg Withelder left the team in the offseason and Jon Metzger and Tommy Keiper have struggled with injuries.

    Meanwhile, Parker continues to enjoy the ride. No different from any other undergraduate a few months ago, Parker now ranks among the team leaders in ERA and was named ACC Pitcher of the Week for his performance against the Wolfpack. Baseball America recently ran a piece on the trainer-turned-star hurler.

    It seems everyone wants a piece of Parker, and why not? He's living his dream, and you can't help but admire someone who gets to do that.