Parker Kelly appeared in eight games as a freshman on Texas Tech’s baseball team last spring.
But the former Rider standout wasn’t content in being a reserve. He also knew cracking Tim Tadlock’s starting lineup wouldn’t be an easy accomplishment.
However, Kelly knew that hard work is what carried him west, and he leaned on that determination to seize a starting role at third base for the Red Raiders.
Texas Tech (39-17) begins its quest for Omaha at the Lubbock Regional with a 3 p.m. Friday matchup against Army. The other two teams in the regional are Florida and Dallas Baptist.
“It’s been rewarding. You go through a bunch of struggles in college baseball and being a student-athlete,” Kelly said. “I came in the fall with something to prove after not playing a lot last year. I worked really hard to try and get in there.”
Kelly hasn’t been an every-day starter at third, but he got the nod for most of Tech’s Big 12 stretch run as the Red Raiders claimed the regular season title. Along the way he hit his first college homer and provided some defensive stability with a .967 fielding percentage.
Third base wasn’t a position Kelly played much before this fall. Josh Jung, a likely top-15 MLB draft pick, held down that position since arriving on campus, but Tadlock slid Jung over to shortstop to fill that hole, creating an opening for Kelly.
“He’s got good lateral movement, reads the ball off the bat good,” Tadlock said at Thursday’s press conference. “He’s a kid who likes to play defense, likes to play catch, and he’s done a solid job over there. He’s got competition – that helps too.”
Having a future pro like Jung to learn from has been valuable for Kelly, who has started 22 of Tech’s games and appeared in five others. Kelly has been impressed by Jung’s leadership and routine.
“We’ve just got a bond and I feel comfortable over there with him,” Kelly said. “He’s taught me position and stuff like that, and he always picks me up when stuff is not going well. I really appreciate having him on the team.”
If there’s one thing that keeps Kelly out of the every-day lineup – he started the first two games at the Big 12 Tournament but didn’t play the final three – it’s his inconsistency at the plate. Kelly is batting .198 with 16 hits in 81 at-bats, but he believes it’s something he can fix.
“I really haven’t been getting my pitch that often so it’s kind of put me in a hole,” Kelly said. “That’s where it all starts honestly. I’m not sure it has to do anything with my swing, just the aspect of getting my pitch and not chasing pitches in the dirt.”
Kelly’s biggest highlight at the plate came May 17 against TCU during the final week of the Big 12 season. In a game Tech desperately needed to win, Kelly hit a solo homer in the fourth inning of a 7-2 victory.
“I’ve been struggling at the plate a little bit. I got down two strikes and I was just trying to hang in there and battle it off,” Kelly said. “He threw one inside and I turned on it and put it to left. It was really rewarding and much-needed.”
By earning a top-eight seed, Tech is guaranteed to host a Super Regional if can emerge from this weekend’s regional. But all eyes are focused on Omaha for the College World Series.
“It’s kind of become a standard here at Texas Tech,” Kelly said. “That’s one place you want to go. Making the tournament is rewarding and all, but once you’re in there, you really just want to go to the World Series and win that thing.”