Parra growing up in the Major Leagues

Parra growing up in the Major Leagues

PHOENIX -- It was a classic showdown between pitcher and hitter.

On one side, D-backs reliever Clay Zavada stroked his mustache in thought, considering what to do next. On the other, outfielder Gerardo Parra stared him down in anticipation of what was coming.

In between them, sat a mound of black and white checkers and Connect Four, the classic vertical stacking game recommended for ages 7 and up.

Parra is being a kid. He's only 22 and he knows sometimes it is fine to act his age. But the young Venezuelan has also come to realize when that he steps on the field, it's time to be a grownup.

Play time is over.

"One thing I have learned is that you have to always stay focused," Parra said. "Sometimes things will go good, sometimes things will go bad, but you have to do the job everyday. I'm maturing every day. I think it's normal."

The approach seems to be working. Last month, Parra was named the National League Rookie of the Month. He is currently hitting .296 with two home runs and 18 RBIs in 108 at-bats and posts a .600 batting average with runners in scoring position. Parra made his big league debut on May 13 against the Reds and hit a home run in the game.

On defense, he's seen action at all three outfield positions, but has been used primarily in left field.

"Even when he has struggled up here, he has found a way to come back," D-backs manager A.J. Hinch said. "It's been remarkable how good he has been hitting with runners in scoring position and that shows me he's a pretty mature guy that has an idea of what he is trying to do."

Hinch knows Parra well. As the D-backs director of player development, it was Hinch that first pulled Parra into a meeting and explained what the organization expected from him in 2006.

Hinch saw talent. He also saw a young man that needed guidance.

"Sometimes players don't even understand how much talent they have, where they fit in the big picture and how good they can be," Hinch said. "We feel that in the front office and as coaches that we have seen this before so we encouraged him not to give in when he was frustrated, we told him that he is part of the future and what we are trying to do."

Starting in Rookie League for Missoula in 2006, Parra raced through the Minor Leagues, posting a .311 average with 21 home runs in 355 Minor League games. He faced stiffer competition and sometimes struggled as he ascended through the ranks, but said he often proved to be his own worst enemy.

Parra admits he could have handled his ascension better. He had been given a taste of high level competition by playing for the Aguilas del Zulia in Venezuelan Winter Leagues in hometown of Maracaibo and sometimes lost his focus against players his own age.

"I think he's shown a tremendous ability to play up to his competition," Hinch said. "At the lower levels, he wanted so badly to be in Double-A, in Triple-A. He had played in the Winter Leagues in Venezuela. Maintaining his concentration level when he is doing well and not doing well has led to more consistent performance."

Today, Parra credits Hinch but also said his teammates have helped in his growth -- as player and a man. So whether he is playing a game with Zavata or chatting up teammates Felipe Lopez or Miguel Montero, the outfielder said he finally feels comfortable on the big league level and is learning what it takes to stay there.

Part of the reason Parra is so happy these days is because he knows he is growing up.

"I've enjoyed seeing it," Hinch said. "We've all been saying the same thing and have been unified in our message. To see it full circle is gratifying."

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.