One-on-one with Virginia’s Jarrett Parker

Jarrett Parker is living a dream at Virginia.

When he decided to join the Cavaliers three years ago, he wasn’t real sure if he’d ever reach the College World Series. But after getting to know his teammates, there was no doubt in his mind the feat would be accomplished.

Now Parker and the Cavaliers have the highest of expectations. They expect to make a return trip to Omaha and win the national title in 2010.

The last two seasons also have been special for Parker for other reasons.

After finishing his freshman campaign with a .264 batting average, Parker stayed in Charlottesville, Va., two summers ago and vowed to gain muscle. He did that and earned All-American honors last season by hitting over .350 with power.

Parker already has accomplished a lot in his Virginia career.

There’s still a national title to grab, though.

Photo Jarrett Parker is one of the nation’s premier outfielders for a reason.

Rogers: The Cavaliers had a magical 2009 campaign. Can you look back at the campaign and reflect on everything that transpired?

Parker: It was just great. It was such an experience for a young team. No one expected us to go that for, so it was fantastic. We just kept winning and doing well. I think it really set the stage for us to know that we can come out this year and play with the best. Now we’re an experienced team with very high goals.

R: Most would agree you guys had the toughest road to Omaha. Did having that tough road give the team the motivation to finally get over the hump?

P: Yeah it did, but I really think everything started in the ACC tournament by taking down North Carolina, Clemson and Florida State. We won the tournament title and that really went a long way in boosting our confidence. Then we went to Irvine, Calif., and had to play San Diego State and pitcher Stephen Strasburg. After we stepped on the field and battled against Strasburg and actually beat him, we knew we could beat anyone in the country. That moment solidified our position that we could win against the nation’s elite teams.

R: Everyone knows the team got to Omaha, but what was your favorite memory of the postseason run before the College World Series?

P: It has got to be clinching Game 3 and the super regional in Oxford, Miss., against Ole Miss. It was such a crazy place to play. I’m not even sure how many fans were in the stadium, but it was a lot. They were diehard and trying to tear us apart every second of every game. It was fantastic to step on their home turf and beat them. It was just awesome. I’ll never forget that.

R: What was your favorite part of going to Omaha and playing in the CWS?

P: Not sure there’s really one thing or a particular instance that stands out when you go to Omaha. The whole thing was just surreal because you get there and realize how many teams would love to be there. We have a saying that Omaha is 1,186 miles from Charlottesville, Va. For that to finally come true was just awesome. Seeing all the people in the stands and the environment in and outside the stadium was something special and also something I’ll never forget.

R: What was it like for the program to finally get a trip to Omaha?

P: It definitely was like a dream for us and myself. I made a lot of strides from my freshmen to sophomore year, and getting to Omaha kind of showed that it paid off. It was great to be part of such a great team. All the hard work the coaches put us through paid off for the entire team.

R: You hit .264 as a freshman and hit over .350 on the way to All-American honors last season. What was the biggest reason for your improvement?

P: It was just that I stayed here the summer after my freshman year and focused on lifting weights. I gained 20 pounds and that did so much for me. It boosted my confidence and made me feel like a much better player. It made me feel like I could do many more things as a player. It was that really. I’m actually working right now on gaining 10 more pounds before the season starts. I was 186 pounds as a freshman and am around 212-214 pounds right now. I want to be 218-220. It’s actually good that we’re on holiday break right now because there’s no playing baseball and I don’t have to step on a field each day of the week. I can lift weights and eat the right food. In terms of the food I eat, it’s more just quantity and things like that. I have to get a good breakfast with eggs and carbohydrates. I also try to take some supplements. It’s not really being that strict, it’s just eating good food.

R: What’s the toughest part of being a student-athlete at Virginia?

P: Everything here definitely is a challenge. It’s one of the top academic schools in the nation, so it’s really tough. Not really sure if I can pick one thing out, but it’s a combination of many things that makes it difficult. We’re up from about 8 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. each day, and our coaches demand a lot of from us. We have good practices and the coaching staff likes to make it hard sometimes. That’s why we’re such a good team.

R: Talk about Coach Brian O’Connor. Is there something about him that perhaps some people don’t know?

P: I could talk about coach O’Connor all day long. He and the other coaches have demanded so much out of me. I never would’ve become what I am now if not for he and the other coaches. I don’t think people realize how much he expects from his players. He’s such a great coach, yet he demands a lot. He believes in the players and believes we can do anything we want with some hard work. It really shows on the field, too.

R: Who’s the most gifted player you’ve ever played with or against?

P: There are some out there you can point to like Stephen Strasburg, but I’d actually have to say my teammate, Danny Hultzen. To step in as a freshman last season and play each day as a position player and a Friday night pitcher was something special. He always stayed level and never was too up or down. To start ACC weekends as a freshman and do what he did really said a lot about his character and playing ability.

R: When you’re not studying or playing baseball, what exactly are you doing?

P: I’m usually just hanging out with my teammates. I’ve been with these guys for three years now and I love each of them to death. We have such good team chemistry. I just like having fun and joking around with them. That’s what I enjoy doing when we’re not studying or on the field.

R: Growing up, was there any play out there that you idolized?

P: I’ve always liked Ken Griffey Jr. He just has something about him that makes him special. He has swagger and how he plays the game is something to see. He just has an awesome confidence that is contagious.

R: Is there anything you’d change about college baseball?

P: Right now, I’m not real sure I agree with the transfer rule that is in place. I have a couple of friends that have done that and have had to redshirt a year. I think it cuts out a players’ ability to compete at a high level. I don’t think I agree with the rule.

R: We think the Cavaliers could win the national title in the spring. When you decided to play at Virginia, did you ever think someone would say those words?

P: I really did. Once I met all the guys in my class and the other players, I got a feel for who they are and how they play. I had and continue to have complete confidence in them. I knew we were all there for the same purpose, and that was to play with any team in the country. We obviously want to be the best team, too. Once I met my teammates I knew there was something special. I’m excited about the upcoming season.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Dec 23, 2009