Enjoying every second

Enjoying every second

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The first few days of Spring Training certainly offer enough mundane and repetitive drills to make most pitchers feel like the daily routine is absolute drudgery.

Jim Parque isn't one of those pitchers.

Instead, Parque is embracing his daily dose of drills -- the pitchers' fielding practice, those dreaded conditioning drills and your run-of-the-mill bullpen sessions.

"All of it feels liberating," Parque said, standing in an empty hallway at the Peoria Sports Complex. "It's liberating. I can go out do PFP's and throw bullpens in front of people. ... I know there are questions about me -- like can he throw and does he have that intensity? I think they're going to see that I do."

Yet another question that may be fair to ask of this 32-year-old, non-roster invitee might be this: What happened to Jim Parque anyway?

Parque doesn't have to think too hard to recall the good days. He was 25, starting Game 1 of the 2000 American League Division Series against, of all teams, the Seattle Mariners. This was the reward for winning 13 games in the regular season.

Parque and the White Sox were clinging to a 4-3 lead that night at Comiskey Park, and he had already retired Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez on ground balls. Parque worked the count to 0-2 on John Olerud before freezing him with a 92-mph fastball.

But what should have been a moment to celebrate, a moment to embrace quickly dissolved into a moment of trepidation, as Parque felt something pop in his left shoulder on that last pitch to Olerud.

"I felt a twinge in my shoulder, but I didn't think much of it," Parque said. "The next day I couldn't throw a ball 20 feet to my partner. I went in the training room, and that was pretty much all she wrote."

Parque suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder, an injury that required surgery. Really, Parque should have been sidelined the entire 2001 season, though he wasn't about to let that happen. Call it stubbornness or the drive to help Chicago get back to the postseason after an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Mariners.

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"It was a tough struggle mentally and emotionally," Parque said. "Here I was, coming off the best year of my career. I had worked 20-something years to get that one season, and the rug was ripped from underneath me."

Parque made five starts in 2001 and was ineffective due to the simple fact that his fastball -- which once ran in the low 90's -- was registering 82 mph on radar guns. On top of that, his shoulder ached even when he wasn't pitching. He made four starts the following season for the White Sox, but knew he still wasn't quite right.

Parque was granted free agency following the 2002 season and signed with Tampa Bay. He actually made the team out of Spring Training but was sidelined after straining his side five starts into the season. That wasn't his only problem. His shoulder wasn't getting any better.

Parque finally called it quits in 2004 when he was in Minor League camp with Arizona.

"The arm just kept getting worse and worse," he said. "You see the writing on the wall."

After his retirement, Parque and his wife, Janine, and daughter, Bella, moved to the Seattle area to be closer to his brother, Phat.

As it turns out, Parque's been right under the Mariners' noses in Auburn, which is located about 25 miles south of Seattle. He's been running a baseball training facility there called Big League Edge.

"It's very regimented," Parque said of his facility, which employs about 40 front-office staff and instructors. "I took what I learned from my experiences in pro ball and applied it to training kids. I tell them we're trying to build champions ... not average or even good players."

In November, Parque -- after not having thrown anything more than batting practice -- got on a mound and surprised himself with his velocity and, perhaps more importantly, how pain-free his arm felt. Time away from pitching, it seemed, strengthened his arm.

That's when the seeds of making a comeback were planted, though Parque still wasn't completely sold on the idea of returning to professional baseball.

"I went down to California to throw for a few teams, but it wasn't to get signed but just for an honest assessment," Parque said. "There's a lot at stake. This isn't a whim. I've got a lot to lose. But everyone, unanimously, said I'd be stupid not to do it."

So here he is, in Peoria with the Mariners. The odds of him making the team are long, as there simply aren't a lot of openings. Manager Mike Hargrove even said earlier this week that Parque's chances are "slight."

That doesn't deter Parque, who was so filled with eagerness and excitement that he hardly slept the night before his first bullpen session on Friday. In some strange way, it feels as if he's a rookie all over again.

"I've always had that ... the drive and dedication to hard work and competitiveness never left," Parque said. "But no matter how much drive and determination, my arm hurt every single pitch, I was throwing 82 mph. I didn't see a future in that. Now, my arm feels good ... I'm excited about this. I'm excited to be here."

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