MLB.com Columnist

Megan Zahneis

Parker gives back at Reds Urban Youth Academy

The Cobra aims to help other Parkinson's patients, 'make tomorrow better than today'

Parker gives back at Reds Urban Youth Academy

He's wearing a cap with the familiar wishbone 'C' on it. Still has that full beard, those big brown eyes and the earring in his left ear.

The beard is a bit more salt than pepper these days, and his hands shake and words slur a bit -- an unfortunate side effect of the Parkinson's he was diagnosed with in 2012.

But there he is: Dave Parker, The Cobra, back in his natural habitat. He's standing in an indoor batting cage at the Reds Urban Youth Academy, where he's been offering hitting clinics for boys ages 8-12 and 13-18 every Tuesday, and he will continue to do so until the end of February.

A young boy, maybe 13 or 14, takes a few cuts from Parker, who offers words of encouragement after every few pitches. "Good one," he says, "one more."

Then they huddle up, with Parker assuming a batting stance to point out some mechanics. You wonder if the kid realizes how lucky he is, getting one-on-one instruction from a one-time National League MVP, two-time batting champion and Home Run Derby winner, a seven-time All-Star with two World Series rings.

Then again, the solemn respect the boy shows for his tutor -- a serious look on his head, vigorous nods at Parker's bits of wisdom -- seems to show that he gets it.

Indeed, there's magic in the batting cage. Parker's fingers curl from muscle memory, and he grips an invisible bat as he crunches his 6-foot-5 frame into a hitter's crouch.

Parker's 63 now, but one has reason to think he's still capable of knocking the seams off of one, the way he's reported to have done one day in Pittsburgh.

"None of the kids have asked me to hit yet. Maybe they're worried about me embarrassing them. I don't know," Parker says with a slow smile.

Pushed a little further, he adds: "This is indoors. I don't want to tear down a wall."

Parker would rather help the kids at the academy tear down their own walls.

The Reds Urban Youth Academy, through MLB's RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner City) program, offers area kids ages 7-18 the opportunity to participate in baseball and softball clinics, character development programming and even academic tutoring and vocational training -- all free of charge.

Parker said he's enjoying the chance to give back.

"Yeah, you get those [moments] every week when a kid catches on to what you're trying to instruct to him. When you see his face light up, that's worth $1,000 to see a kid catch it and catch on to what you're trying to teach. When he gets it, you can see the response immediately," Parker said.

Giving back is something Parker's been doing a lot of lately.

"[I've been doing] a lot of traveling, a lot of autograph sessions, public appearances, speaking engagements, stuff of that nature. The academy was something that I started because of my Parkinson's," Parker explained. "I was diagnosed with Parkinson's about two years ago. I wanted to do something about it because there's not a cure for it. That made me decide to get the foundation and to donate my money and revenues to the Parkinson's organization."

Since his diagnosis, Parker has started up the eponymous Dave Parker 39 Foundation, whose goal is to "make tomorrow better than today" for Parkinson's patients.

"It was personal, with me," Parker admitted. "Like I said, I was diagnosed with [Parkinson's]. To be a big athlete, a strong athlete, to all of a sudden go to your Parkinson's diagnosis was something that I wanted to rectify in some way or manner.

"That's why I started the foundation, learned as much as I could about the disease. It's treatable, but it's not curable. It's a lot worse for younger people when they've got it. It deals with them a lot tougher than it does with an adult. Thinking about all those things made my heart, and my means of giving back, come out."

You had better believe that Dave Parker is giving his battle with Parkinson's all he's got.

"Hopefully somewhere down the line with this disease, they'll find a cure. Because it's a dreadful disease," Parker said. "But I've been a fighter all my life, and I'm going to fight this and do as much good as I can while I'm here."

Rest assured, the 2014 Reds Hall of Fame inductee is doing perfectly well.

"I'm doing fine. I have good days and bad days. I stay active. I still travel quite a bit. I'm in good spirits -- like I say, good days, bad days," Parker explained. "But I make 'em more good days than bad with my desire to do well and just have a good lifestyle. That's what I've been concentrating on doing."

With an attitude like that, Dave Parker is more than just fine.

Megan Zahneis is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.