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January 10, 2012

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

One-on-One with Professor Parks, Part I

by Jason Parks

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Having just returned from the strange planet known as Mexico City, I finally nailed down the Professor—who isn’t actually a professor—for a little one-on-one. It was a pointed conversation between two men with similar names and different approaches. I took a casual stroll over to his Brooklyn location, a place that could be the billboard that advertises all the reasons people with seemingly useless liberal arts degrees have damaged the earth. Earlier that day, the Professor seemed excited to inform me that he has the technology to open the first of two entryway doors from the interior of his own apartment, placing the burden on my fingers to press the appropriate button to set in motion the technological advances he seems so smitten with. Apparently having such technology is how hipsters with crappy apartments judge themselves against other hipsters with crappy apartments. It’s like people with doormen or great smiles: Once you live with that luxury, you can’t really feel any pain.

After I press the appropriate button, I can hear his ego over the intercom as he once again makes me aware that he has the power to open the door with the touch of a button. He’s like a child who just discovered that the moon and sun are different objects in the sky, and passionately points out that distinction when applicable. I allow him the time to relish in his newly-discovered modern age and wait for the door to unsecure. A man with a curious smirk and a familiar face meets me at the top of the third-floor stairs; it’s a face I’ve seen my entire life in some form or the other. He invites me in and immediately offers me a glass of chilled gin. I decline because it’s hours before the day hits noon, and I’m uneasy that such an offer was made in the first place. He’s wearing an oversized sombrero that makes him look like a bad gringo cartoon and a sweater that is not only incongruent to the aesthetic he is putting forth, but looks like something an elderly Peruvian woman would wear on the journey to her deathbed. I expected a more established presence; for all the pomp and talk of handsome style, the Professor wasn’t showing me either. From the jump, he was letting the name we conveniently share go to spoil.

We sit down on a comfortable yet unremarkable couch that he immediately tells me the cost of, and we stare at each other as if we were sharing the same eyes. As it turns out, he was staring at the television.

“First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I know we played a cute little game of phone tag before finally connecting, so I appreciate the patience (and the willingness) to make this happen.”

Professor Parks: No problem. My schedule has been a little crazy, but I’ll always make time for you.

He spoke with the stain of gin on his breath, as my focus shifted from his response to the muted television that had stolen his focus since we first took to our seats. It was a Fox Soccer broadcast of a game between Manchester United and Newcastle United. After his answer to my introductory question, he felt inclined to tell me that both teams were, in fact, united. I didn’t understand the comment. I was never a big soccer fan. I always found the game to be a kinetic form of recess played by adults dressed in textile advertisements. He clearly enjoys the sport and seems clearly displeased that I didn’t laugh or further comment on his declaration that both teams on the television were both, in fact, united.

I was eager to make this legit, so I didn’t hold my punches. I wanted to know what make this Professor who wasn’t a professor tick. “Anyway, let’s get into the interview.” He agreed, eyes still focused on the duo of united taking place on the television.

“Do you think you placed yourself in a vocation that necessitates the evaluation of the developmental process of immature talent because the death of your mother and mental illness of your father accelerated your own developmental process, and the search for these prospects is really just the search for yourself?”

I’ve always wondered this. It seems logical, but what do I know? I just wanted to break his gaze and push the blood through his veins with a little more vigor.

Professor Parks: Seriously?

His dodge speaks volumes. I figured he would dodge. I’ve been known to avoid the topic as it relates to me, but I wanted to establish the grip on the process. This wasn’t to be a fluff session. I had to break his focus on the playground sport. I feared another united comment was set to exit his lips. “I know you aren’t currently a professional scout, but I hear you promote the dream of scouting with every fifth word, so let me ask you: When did you first realize you wanted to be a scout? I remember you playing baseball as a youth, and I remember you showing some quality physical characteristics. But you weren’t that good, and I don’t remember you talking about “working in baseball” at any point after you stopped playing. When did all of this come about?” After taking a deep visual swig from the two united teams on the screen, he looked back at me and answered with disdain and possible signs of early-onset intoxication. This isn’t going as planned. He’ll probably suggest I remind him of his father.

Professor Parks: You remind me of Dad. As a youth, my passion for baseball was married to my passion for playing the game. When my knee exploded and my playing days turned into my teenaged nights, the fire that propelled my actions on the field was lost. I turned that fire and that focus into other things, but I never went to ash with my baseball viewing; I have always watched baseball and I will always watch baseball. But with new priorities and new responsibilities on my plate, watching as a fan was all the commitment I could muster. I was just a fan like anybody else.

But the further I moved away from the playing fields (and from the geographic locations of those familiar playing fields), the more I started to feel magnetized to the game. It was different now. The enjoyment I once received from innocuous viewing was now merely a taste on my tongue. Something was brewing inside me, but the passion wasn’t focused and the needle was all over the map.

In 2004, I started using my vacation days to attend spring training in Arizona, still very much a fan of the Texas Rangers, still wearing the team hat and still unable to channel the baseball energy fervently growing in my loins. Being somewhat bored with the action at the highest level, I eventually drifted onto the backfields and started focusing my attention on the players on the way up rather than the ones already established at the top. I was hooked at that point. Then I…(interrupted)

I couldn’t take it anymore. I was growing tired. I think he had this answer scripted, as if cue cards had replaced the wall adjacent to our seating arrangement and he was merely playing the role of the earnest interviewee. “You are saying a lot words but I’m not learning anything. It reminds me of your articles. Let’s try this again and try not to add any additional tryptophan to your response. When did you know that you wanted to become a scout?”

I was in charge, and I was showing it. He seemed confused by the line of questioning, and I enjoyed being in the position to make him feel such confusion. The adjacent walls were stripped of their resource, and the Professor who wasn’t a professor was forced to answer the questions I shot into his familiar face.

Professor Parks: It was late September of 2008 and I was standing on the backfields in Arizona waiting for an instructional league workout to begin. There was something about the isolation of that moment that gripped my mind and hasn’t unclenched since. I knew I was supposed to be at those fields; I felt like I belonged. For the first time in my adult life, something made sense.

Speaking of unclenching, for the first time since I arrived, his hand had unclenched from his morning libation and his eyes left the space surrounding my head to focus intently on my reaction to his words. It’s sweet how sincere he found the answer to be. I’ll play along.

“How sweet. So what happened next? That was the end of the 2008 season, and we are approaching the 2012 season, and you still haven’t been able to open the scouting door yet. What gives? Close to giving up?”

Professor Parks: I’m close to giving up on this interview.

It amazes me that we look so much alike, yet I feel nothing like this man. He wants more than anything to be a scout, to work in baseball. All I want to do is write from home and play on Twitter. He is willing to spend 100 days a year away from the friends he calls family in order to chase his dreams. I’m willing to watch 100 straight hours of “Jersey Shore” and sleep in my own bed. Not that I’m overly impressed with his drive, or watery in the lachrymals with his devotion; in fact, quite the opposite. You can’t run away to scout without actually running away. He was eager to leave the familiar face I was now staring back into.

“Let me ask you a basic question that will allow me to compose myself while you give a stock answer and smile for the cameras: What is your favorite thing about writing for Baseball Prospectus?”

Professor Parks: I respect the history of the site and the talents of those who have attached their name to the product. The fact that my name has any form of association with that talent is quite surreal, as I was a fan and a follower before I was a fixture.

Well played. I knew he would blow smoke, but the politically savvy smoke that erupted from his mouth actually gave off the appearance of sincerity. This bloke might even mean what he said. That’s the ultimate way to lie: to actually mean it. I almost felt proud of him. I’m left wondering if the feeling is mutual. He wanted to leave me, after all. Screw him. I missed him already. I wanted to hurt him again. “I heard that your editors hate you. Care to comment?”

Professor Parks: Hate is a very strong word. I’d use words like utterly despise or fundamentally oppose before I’d use the word hate. Hate is so negative. People hate Hitler. People hate the BCS, etc.

Clever. He played the Hitler card. He’s on the same page at this point, and he’s tough to beat. It’s like we are sharing the same thoughts. This is going to be tit-for-tat from here on out. I need to stay sharp. The Professor is no longer drinking and has announced that his focus has returned at full intensity. I need to counter his Hitler with a Hitler of my own. I need to go lower. I also need to get the baseball questions before he accuses me of “gotcha” journalism. I never considered myself a journalist. Journalists seem to actually care.

“Speaking of Hitler, let’s get back to your personality issues. You strike me as a narcissist, although the display is normally innocuous and perhaps a front; your need to over-intellectualize or over-promote intellectualism as it pertains to your product is not only transparent but suggests more about your inadequacies than your intellectual strengths. You clearly love yourself, but I’m not sold that you actually believe the hype you work so hard to establish. My real question is: Do you think A.J. Cole will be an “ace”?

 Professor Parks: ……  

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  The Who,  What You Need To Know,  The Process,  Focus

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