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La Cueva Graduate James Parr Is Becoming a Star in the Braves' Farm System

By Ken Sickenger
Journal Staff Writer
    James Parr has learned quite a bit about being a professional baseball player this summer. He hasn't learned much about losing.
    Parr, an Albuquerque native and 2004 La Cueva graduate, recently completed his first full season as a member of the Atlanta Braves organization.
    A productive season it was.
    Pitching for the Class A Rome (Ga.) Braves in the South Atlantic League, Parr compiled a 13-4 record with a 3.41 earned-run average and three saves in 26 appearances.
    His 13 wins tied for most among league pitchers and set a Rome franchise record for a single season. The former record of 12 belonged to current Atlanta reliever Blaine Boyer.
    In a phone interview during his team's final road trip of the season, Parr said one of the toughest opponents he faced was the southeastern summer.
    "The humidity killed me at first," Parr said. "People said, 'Come on, you're from the desert.' I told them 90 degrees here feels a lot hotter than it does in New Mexico. The humidity here is brutal.''
    But heat, professional hitters and the grind of pitching 126 2/3 innings were precisely what the Braves organization had in mind for Parr in 2005. By contrast, La Cueva's entire season was 158 innings in Parr's senior season in 2004.
    Just a year removed from helping La Cueva to a second-straight unbeaten season and becoming Atlanta's fourth-round draft pick, Parr said he was told to get comfortable in Rome— a city of about 35,000 people located 70 miles northwest of Atlanta.
    "It was my first full season, so I didn't expect to be moved anywhere, even if I went 20-0," Parr said.
    After an up-and-down stretch that included both starting and relief appearances, Parr established himself. He became a full-time starter, went 10-2 in his final 19 games and started turning heads.
    Rome manager Rocket Wheeler is traveling with Atlanta's major-league club during the final weeks of the season and couldn't be reached for comment for this story. But David Dawson, who covers the Class A club for the Rome News-Tribune, said Parr's season was well-received.
    "Based on talking to Rocket Wheeler, the organization got higher and higher on (Parr)," Dawson said. "They felt like he really matured, and that's what they're happiest about."
    Dawson said Parr was particularly impressive from July on.
    "His first five or six games, he was kind of feeling his way," Dawson said. "After that he was lights-out. He became the ace of the staff."
    Parr, who features a low- to mid-90s fastball, a sharp breaking ball and a changeup, said the latter became more of a staple for him this season.
    "Mechanically, I came in pretty sound, but they wanted me to work on the mental game," Parr said, "locating my pitches consistently and using my changeup more."
    The 19-year-old also tried to soak up knowledge from some of Atlanta's veterans. Parr spent time with standout Braves pitcher John Smoltz during spring training.
    "I think John Smoltz has the most respect of any player in the organization," Parr said. "He takes care of the younger guys. He knows what we're going through, so people really listen to him."
    Parr also got to know Chipper Jones when the star third baseman spent a few days playing for Rome on a rehab assignment.
    "That place went crazy when he was there," said Parr, whose locker was adjacent to Jones'. "He's a veteran and he's been around, but he's still like a kid. He loves the game and he's very down-to-earth."
    Rick Roach, Parr's stepfather, was in Rome for a visit during Jones' rehab stint.
    "James was pretty excited about meeting him," Roach said. "I guess the team usually had pizza or something for the players to eat in the locker room. But when Chipper was there, he had steaks and ribs brought in. James loved that."
    Parr plans to take a few weeks off and spend some time in Albuquerque this fall. Then its back to work, and hopefully, a step or two up the organizational ladder in 2006.
    The Braves' high Class A affiliate plays in Myrtle Beach, S.C., while AA is in Pearl, Miss., and AAA is in Richmond, Va.
    "I'm looking forward to coming back to Albuquerque, but I'm learning to like the Southeast," Parr said. "I have high expectations and goals about getting to the major leagues. If I work hard and stay focused, I believe I'll get there."
    Wins in 2005, a franchise record for the Class A Rome Braves
    Strikeouts posted in 126 2/3 innings pitched for Parr
    Walks allowed, making his strikeouts-to-walks ratio nearly 4-1
    Earned-run average in Parr's first full professional season
    Parr's age— he was a fourth-round draft pick in 2004