The 2014 baseball season will be a homecoming of sorts for sophomore pitcher Benji Parkes, who transferred from SUNY Oneonta to Ithaca College this semester.
A Lansing, N.Y., native, Parkes said he transferred to the college partly because he wanted to return to the Ithaca area.
“I think that’s what I really missed when I went to Oneonta,” he said. “I just took everything in this area for granted. When I went away, I missed it and wanted to come back and enjoy everything around this city.”
Parkes posted a 3.35 ERA in eight appearances for the Red Dragons as a freshman. One of his outings was against the Bombers, in which he struck out two and allowed one hit in 2 2/3 innings, pitching in relief.
Parkes also played soccer in his first year for the Red Dragons, but made just three appearances as a goalkeeper. After the 2012 season, he quit soccer to focus on baseball. Parkes said his minimal playing time on the soccer team affected his decision to switch solely to baseball.
However, for Parkes, baseball did not go as well as he had hoped either. Last season, the Red Dragons posted a 12–25 overall record and missed the SUNYAC conference tournament.
After his freshman season ended, Parkes watched as the Bombers made their run to the NCAA Division III Championship semifinals. Parkes said because the team was successful, he reached out to the college’s coaching staff to promote his interest in playing for the Bombers.
When Parkes returned as a sophomore to play for Oneonta in the fall, he said he was homesick and wasn’t enjoying baseball as much as he had in the past.
Additionally, Parkes wanted to change his major from environmental science to physical education. After he researched the college’s physical education program, Parkes said the decision to transfer was easy.
“I really only had a month between when I had to apply and when I had to decide,” he said. “I was comfortable with [my decision] though. I didn’t need any more time. I just wanted to get it over with and make the change.”
Parkes returned to Ithaca over winter break, and he immediately contacted some of the college players whom he had played with and against in high school. He began working out with them before the spring semester began.
Bombers head coach George Valesente said the workouts over winter break helped Parkes not only get an idea of what playing for the Blue and Gold would be like, but also help his transition to a new college.
When classes resumed, Parkes was able to room with sophomore outfielder Cam Oathout. Valesente said this also helped Parkes acclimate to the college and to the team.
“Because Cam gets along so well with everyone on the team, Benji has gotten to know everyone, too,” he said.
Parkes made his first start for the Blue and Gold on March 9 against Whittier College. He pitched six innings, allowing six hits and three runs in the team’s 9–7 loss.
The Bombers did not have a left-hander in their starting rotation last year, but this year they have added two in Parkes and sophomore Zach Pidgeon, who pitched out of the bullpen last year. Oathout said Parkes will be effective on the team not only because he is a lefty but also because of his work ethic.
“We need lefties in the [starting] rotation,” Oathout said. “We have a couple of good lefties who are going to play big roles for us this season, which will help us a lot. Benji has the same mentality as a guy like Pat [Lemmo]. He works hard, and it’s great to have another pitcher like that on the staff.”
For Parkes, playing for the Bombers has been a huge transition. He said the healthy competition for playing time among his teammates has created a team-wide expectation for success.
“It’s a different world here,” he said. “Every single guy knows their specific role and knows why they’re on the team. They’re all in it to win. It’s honestly an honor to come in and make a spot on the varsity team after they finished third in the country last spring.”
Parkes also said he is looking to contribute immediately, which is his reason behind transferring between semesters instead of waiting until next fall.
“I transferred in the [middle of the year] so that I could play three years here,” he said. “I’m hoping to put in quite a few innings and help out the starting rotation as much as I can.”