Her routine is simple. And devastating.
Ella Parker walks to the batter’s box. Most softball players run. But this slows her heart rate. Gives ample time for dread to settle into the unfortunate mortal who has to deliver her a pitch. She digs in, briefly glancing at a spot on her bat.
Then stares directly into the eyes of whomever’s in the pitching circle.
It instills fear. Just ask teammate Sarah Jacobs, who last year first faced Parker in a winter practice, a freshman pitcher simply trying to make a good impression. And there was Parker stepping up, a .600-hitting machine that deadlifts 405 pounds, gazing into her soul.
“I was so scared,” Jacobs remembered.
Parker’s stare has been described, by an opposing parent to her mother Melissa, as “piercing.” Her reputation precedes her every stride to the batter’s box, a target aimed directly between the senior’s broad shoulders. There is no eye test the now-senior centerfielder can’t pass. No secrets she can keep.
You’re the kid committed to Oklahoma. You’re the kid recruited since the sixth grade. You’re Dave Roberts’ niece.
When asked about her accomplishments — her stats, her commitment, her relation to her uncle — Parker giggles and blushes and often lets sentences careen into a thicket of “ums” and “uhhs.”
She despises the attention.
Yet she commands it.
Notre Dame first-year head coach Justin Siegel first met Parker almost a decade ago, on opposing lines, coaching a team she was playing against in the Westchester Del Rey Little League. And at age 7, Siegel recalled, Parker was flinging the ball so hard from the pitcher’s circle that unsuspecting tykes would dive out of the way.
“She [was] far too big,” Siegel recalled. “Far too strong.”
Parker exists between two extremes: that competitive physical force, and an introvert who shies away from any acknowledgement. She was always a “gentle giant,” her mother said. Sensitive, shy. She won a trophy at an Alliance Fastpitch tournament a couple years ago and, on the flight home, hugged it close to her stomach so nobody would be tempted to ask her what it was for.
On a Monday, as Siegel was extolling her praises — calling her Notre Dame’s captain despite the team not having any official captains — Parker pretended to put her fingers in her ears before smiling meekly.
“If you go that way,” Siegel told her, “[the team’s] going that way.”
She carries a work ethic that’s a model of the culture Siegel wants to instill at Notre Dame. Parker was hell-bent on two goals by the time she turned double digits in age: play college softball and play for Team Japan in the Olympics one day. Her grandmother is from Okinawa.
“I’ve wanted to be able to show both sides of my family — my mom being Japanese, my dad being Black,” Parker said. “I wanted to bring a little bit of culture to my passion.”
She’s supported, too, by Roberts, who brings a manager’s eye to his niece’s games. He’ll sit directly behind home plate, Parker’s mother described. Laser-focused.
Her uncle has taught her, postgame, how to analyze her at-bats, Parker said.
“How’d you do?” Roberts would ask, or some variation.
“I went one for two, or one for three,” Parker would respond, or some variation.
The Dodgers manager would focus more on breaking down how she performed in each at-bat. What did she do, he’d ask her, to make it a good at-bat or a bad one?
“Looking into it at a deeper level,” Parker said, “really helped me become more knowledgeable of the game.”
She hit .651 last year with 11 home runs. And after pitching often in her first three seasons, Siegel’s already established she’ll focus solely on hitting and playing center field in her senior year — meaning her numbers at the dish could skyrocket with a responsibility lifted.
“She’s not preparing to come in and have her moment,” Siegel said. “She’s preparing to make every single pitch her moment.”
Players to Watch
—Auddrey Lira: Villa Park will try to withstand the graduation of Sydney Somerndike, a pitcher now at Arizona who was named last year’s Southern Section Division 1 player of the year, with continued improvement from their sophomore ace. Coach Terry William said Lira has been working with Somerndike’s pitching coach in the offseason, and has added a strong rise-ball to her repertoire. “We’ll go as far as she takes us, honestly,” William said.
—Zoe Prystajko: A Stanford commit who posted a 0.46 ERA last season, this Huntington Beach pitcher is another player to watch.
—Cambria Salmon: William called the Beaumont junior “probably the best pitcher I’ve seen outside of Sydney.”
—Kai Minor ,who hit .532 last season for Orange Lutheran, could contend for player of the year as just a sophomore. She’s already receiving interest from Oklahoma, according to coach Steve Miklos, and is honing a power stroke in addition to having game-breaking speed.