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Published: Monday, 5/5/2008

L.P. a baseball man through and through

Yesterday marked the 3,640th major or minor league baseball game that Larry Parrish has played in, coached, or managed.

Guess who the first guy at the old ballpark was before the Mud Hens' 8-4 win over Rochester.

It would be easy to say that Parrish loves life and that baseball is his life. After all, he's been pulling on a pro uniform since 1972.

But that would ignore bow hunting and golf, pick-up trucks and deer and wild turkeys, kids and grandkids, spring-fed streams and rolling hills at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

This rugged outdoorsman with thick forearms and hands as big and meaty as a porterhouse steak is a man for all seasons. But one season is special, which might explain why Parrish was so grumpy last summer.

Toledo won a third straight IL West title in 2007, but L.P., as the Hens skipper is known to one and all, wasn't a part of it. He spent a lot of the year in a cast, then on crutches, then touring the Detroit farm system.

He said it was a good break, a chance to charge his battery. Don't believe him for a minute. Parrish and the Mud Hens' dugout and the third-base coaching box go together like Muddy and Muddonna.

Simply put, Parrish is the most successful manager in Toledo baseball history. Sure, Casey Stengel won a Junior World Series with the Hens back in 1927 and is in the Hall of Fame. Cal Ermer spent more time spitting tobacco here and won more games than any manager. Jack Tighe won a title. So, argue if you like. Parrish's credentials are displayed on either side of the main entrance at Fifth Third Field - Governors Cup championships won back to back in 2005-06.

There was optimism he would produce a third straight title in '07, but then there was the sudden realization late in spring training that he couldn't walk, no small problem that.

It turns out there was no cartilage remaining in his left ankle. Doctors inserted a rod through the bones to hold everything together and Parrish headed for rehab while Mike Rojas, a roving minor league instructor for the Tigers system, moved into the Toledo manager's office on an interim basis.

"I didn't have any choice but to get it done," Parrish said of the surgery, "although I didn't realize how long of a process it was going to be. I got the cast off in the middle of June and I was ready to go by the All-Star break in July. But Mike was doing a good job, the club was playing well and everybody felt it was better to leave the club alone."

Parrish, the good soldier, hit the road, making scouting visits and working with hitters throughout the Tigers' organization. Rojas and the Hens won a division title and made another trip to the playoffs.

Now, the calendar has flipped and it is like Parrish and the Hens never skipped a beat. Toledo is off to a sizzling 20-10 start.

"Sure, I missed it," Parrish said, leaning back in his desk chair. "I do enjoy this job. But it's not just the winning or playing for championships.

"What I missed more than anything was the clubhouse and teaching. The most fun is when you've got a guy who's really close to the big leagues, who needs to work on maybe one thing to get over that hump, and we get him there."

And if you hang a bunch of pennants and get a city seriously jacked up on baseball along the way, all the better.



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