HAMILTON — Parker Rye has tried to gain weight. He really has.
Rye increased his eating habits, including a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before bedtime. During the fall, he lifted weights with his father at the local wellness center. Still, his metabolism is winning this competition, keeping his 5-foot-5 frame around 140 pounds
Yet as Hamilton High School baseball prepares for game one of its Class 2A second-round series against East Union (15-10) on Friday, its goal of returning to the state finals for the third time in five years rests on the shoulders of one of the thinnest yet most productive catchers in the state.
“He”s small, but he can get it done,” Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest said.
Earnest would prefer Rye at shortstop or second — his natural positions. After all, he is Hamilton High”s best infielder. Problem is, he”s the best catcher, too, and the only guy who excels at both, giving the Lions their best chance to earn their fourth state title.
Behind the plate, Rye, a senior, overcomes his lack of size with will and determination, Earnest said, fighting off the injuries that can slow down anyone who spends up to three hours on gameday bent over in the dirt, wearing about seven pounds of protective gear.
Call him the Little Catcher that Could.
Rye”s arsenal includes a big arm, which appears even bigger when you factor in his quickness and feel for the game. A perfect example came when he caught an East Webster runner too far off base in a 4-3 loss in the regular-season finale.
“When he got too far off (the base), I thought, ”I can get him,” ” Rye said, “so I snapped it and got it. I feel it, I guess.”
Rye also excels at blocking balls and receiving. Did we mention he”s quick?
His throws fly through the air with little arch, so they reach second faster than you can say, “There he goes again, throwing somebody out.”
Teammate Chase Reeves (3-0), who is scheduled to start Friday against East Union, recalled when Rye tracked down a ball — also against East Webster.
“The ball got to the batter”s box,” said Reeves, a University of Mississippi commitment. “We thought it was going to be a passed ball, but he throws to first and picks him off.”
At the plate, when the Lions (13-5) need something to happen, Rye is “usually in the middle of it,” Reeves said. Rye enters the playoffs on a 14-game hitting streak with a team-best .500 average. While he doesn”t hit for power, Earnest said he has “pop in his bat for his size.” Hitting in the second position, he can send a shot to the gap, like he did to start off a 4-0 win against Bruce on April 1, or move a runner over with a bunt. He also can turn what resembles a routine groundout into an infield single.
“He”s definitely a spark for us,” said teammate Cole Gill, a senior. “He fires the team up when he beats a bunt out.”
Did we mention he can hit from both sides?
“I”ve just really been seeing the ball really well,” Rye said. “I haven”t seen the ball like this in … never. I”ve just shortened my swing up and put the ball into play.”
Size has become an non-issue for Rye, who wants to return to the infield for college baseball. Later this month, he will join teammates Reeves, Austin Earnest, and Graham Pritchett in the Northeast Mississippi Coaches Association for Better Baseball on the Class 1A-2A East All-Star team that will play a squad of All-Stars from the West in Corinth. It”s uncertain if Rye will play catcher or in the infield in the game, but he plays catcher as if he was the tall, stocky roadblock between a run on the scoreboard. He likes it when runners test his arm. He also enjoys his connection with the game at catcher. In a way, he feels more connected to the action than he would at second or in the outfield.
Still, his mother would prefer him to play in the infield.
“In the back of her head,” Rye said, “she thinks somebody”s going to try and run over me or doing something dirty. That”s mom.”
Don”t worry Mom. Parker”s working on his weight — one sandwich at a time.