BANGOR, Maine — Take a moment, close your eyes and visualize a baseball catcher.
Now do the same thing again, but this time visualize a center fielder.
It’s unlikely what you see in your mind’s eye is the same in both cases, unless for some reason those differing thought processes both produce an image of Bangor High School senior Tyler Parke.
Parke was the starting center fielder a year ago as Bangor captured its fourth consecutive Class A state championship. On Saturday he’ll continue what has been a rather unique transition to catcher as coach Dave Morris’ top-ranked Rams (16-1) host No. 4 Lewiston (13-4) in a North region semifinal scheduled for 4 p.m. at Mansfield Stadium.
“Any way I can get into a baseball game is worth it,” Parke said after Bangor’s 5-2 quarterfinal victory over Messalonskee of Oakland on Wednesday. “As a senior, if you’ve got to sit on the bench and cheer on your teammates and that’s the way you get into the game, that’s how you get into the game.
“I’ll take whatever I can get at this point.”
Parke probably can call his own shots with the Rams at this point.
Batting leadoff, he leads the team in nearly every offensive category, including batting average (.482), hits (27), triples (seven), stolen bases (nine), RBIs (18) and runs scored (20).
“Staying healthy has been the key this year, Parke said. “I’ve got a good friend who’s my trainer and he always prepares me for whatever I may be doing and I think that’s huge for any position, especially being able to do all nine of them at any given time.”
While Parke has not yet played all nine positions in a game, he has contributed errorless defense behind the plate while handling a Bangor pitching staff that entered postseason play with a 1.41 earned run average.
“The best thing about Tyler is I know when I throw a curveball or a fastball that he’s going to block it,” said Bangor junior right-hander Zach Cowperthwaite. “He calls a good game, and he knows when to cool me down. When things aren’t going right he knows what to say.”
Parke was a defensive standout a year ago when he patrolled the middle of the outfield as Bangor surged toward its fourth straight state championship.
It was during the final game of the 2017 season when he had perhaps his biggest hit to date for the Rams, an RBI double in the bottom of the ninth inning that helped Bangor rally past Falmouth 4-3.
That blast came from the No. 9 spot in the batting order.
“I knew the center fielder was playing shallow and I put a charge into it,” said Parke after the game.
Within a day after that state championship celebration, center field became a memory for Parke as he made the quick shift to catcher for Bangor’s Coffee News Comrades American Legion baseball program to replace the graduated Derek Fournier.
“We needed him,” said Dave Morris, the head coach of Bangor’s high school and American Legion teams. “I’ve known Tyler since he was little and remember having him in catching camps as a little kid, but (the change) was really all about him. His sophomore year he came out and offered to catch bullpen or whatever he could do and from there we thought we had something.”
While the switch from the gracefulness of a center fielder to the physicality of a catcher seemed significant to many outside the program, to Parke it was merely the chance to contribute to his team in a new way. The Comrades went on to win their third American Legion state championship in four years.
“Wherever I can get into the game is OK,” he said. “I pride myself on being able to do a lot of different things.”
But the versatility doesn’t stop there. Parke plans to play baseball at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham next season, and the odds are strong that he won’t be playing in the outfield or behind the plate.
“I’ll be honest with you, probably his best position is as a middle infielder,” said Morris. “If we had another catcher I’m not quite sure I’d even have him in center field right now because he might be a better middle infielder and I think that’s where he’s headed in college.”
As for Parke’s preference, it’s merely to play the game.
“I was told a combination of middle infield and outfield,” he said of his college future, “and if (USM coach Ed Flaherty) wants me to slide behind the plate I’ll slide behind the plate.”
In the meantime, Parke hopes there are three more victories in his high school career, a run that would net Bangor an unprecedented fifth consecutive Class A state title.
He also understands that given the one-and-done nature of postseason play, his next game with the Rams also could be his last.
“If I’ve learned anything over the past couple of years of playing on varsity is that you can’t think about that stuff,” Parke said. “You’ve got to take it one game at a time even if it’s your last season and it might be your last game playing at Mansfield with a Bangor uniform on. You’ve just got to leave everything on the field.
“If you can look back after it’s all over and say to yourself, ‘I gave it 110 percent, I did everything I could, I led a team and made good friends,’ that makes it all worth it.”
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