Mets Closer Shares a Special Bond With FDNY

It was Thursday night in Los Angeles and Friday morning in New York when Bobby Parnell notched his first save in his new role as Mets interim closer.

Parnell pitched a scoreless inning in a 3-2 victory over the Dodgers. Among the Mets fans who watched it live on TV or heard about it when they woke up were members of the New York City Fire Department.

"The next morning I came in, it was, 'Hey, Bobby got the save last night,' " said NYC Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano. "People are following him in the Fire Department, believe me. We're living and dying with every pitch."

You see, Parnell comes from a firefighter family in Salisbury, N.C. He says he would be a firefighter himself if not for that 100-mph fastball that got him to the big leagues. And he loves to visit the city's firehouses, where he is treated like a hero but recognizes who the true heroes are.

"I actually grew up in the firehouse," said Parnell, who became the closer when Frank Francisco went on the disabled list June 24. "At a young age, I was always at the fire station."

Parnell volunteered all through high school. His grandfather was a firefighter; his father, Bob, is the chief in Salisbury, and his 24-year-old brother, Adam, is a firefighter in nearby Granite Quarry, N.C.

And if Bobby had not been blessed with baseball talent? "Absolutely," he said. "I'd probably be in the fire field somewhere."

Actually, Parnell already is working as a "fireman," which is a somewhat outdated term for relief pitchers who "put out the fire" of an opposing team's rally. Parnell said he is aware of the term, even if it's not in vogue anymore, and sees some similarities between his role and that of a firefighter. "We don't use it anymore, but it does relate in a sense," he said. "You want to go out there and do your job. I think a lot of it is just keeping calm. Being under the pressure or being under the fire and keeping calm."

That doesn't mean Parnell doesn't get the difference. "As a baseball player, you go home every night," he said. "Baseball's not really do-or-die. It's a game. And the Fire Department, that's life. You screw up in a fire, you're not coming home."

With Parnell's ties, he became a natural fit to join the Mets' long-standing efforts in charitable work with the police and firefighter widows and orphans funds, especially after 9/11. He also went through some firefighter drills in January 2011 at the FDNY's Training Academy on Randalls Island with teammates R.A. Dickey, Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee.

"He's been really terrific to our families," Cassano said. "He's out there with the kids signing autographs. When a kid sees a ballplayer, their eyes light up."

And when Parnell and his teammates visit a firehouse, it's not clear who is more excited: those who fight the fires or the guy who brings the heat.

"Firefighters are big kids, too," Cassano said. "And the interaction between Bobby and the firefighters is really good. You could just see a natural affinity for each other."

Said Parnell: "I'm a kid in the candy store at the Fire Department. Always with the new toys: the equipment, the trucks."

Parnell, 27, hopes for a long career in baseball. He's 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA and that one save. But if he's looking for a job after his playing days, Cassano has an idea. "Maybe there's life after pitching," he said. "I wouldn't say that he couldn't be a firefighter. But there's no doubt in my mind he'd be working a fire tonight if he wasn't pitching."

Said Parnell: "I think I'll always be around the Fire Department. I'll always be around the firehouse, even after baseball. It'll always be a part of me."

Copyright 2012 - Newsday, Melville, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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