Parr brothers reunite in Illini orange and blue

There’s a reason Illinois right-hander Drasen Johnson lists Cam Parr as the greatest influence on his career.

Do a little digging behind the nod to Johnson’s youth league coach and you may come across a statistical nugget like Parr’s team-high .366 batting average while playing shortstop for Huntington University (Ind.) in 1984. But that’s not Cam Parr.

You may see him shaking hands at Illinois Field after a game as he waits for his sons Josh and Justin to come off the field, or wearing his financial planner hat as he meets with clients around the greater Peoria area. But that, too, is an incomplete picture of Cam Parr.

To get a true taste of the gregarious father of four, stop by the Parr family home in Chillicothe, Ill., any given Monday evening. That is, if you can find a place to park. Seven years ago when Parr and his wife Susan started a chapter of Campus Life, a part of the Youth for Christ organization, to serve Illinois Valley Central High School, Parr recalls between 20 and 30 students showed up. Fast forward to 2011, when the couple now hosts roughly 100 of the school’s 763 students weekly, and you’ll understand why you may want to arrive a few minutes early.

Parr’s Sundays are admittedly hectic too, thanks to a schedule that includes teaching fifth grade Sunday school at Peoria’s Grace Presbyterian Church, attending the adult service, and then rushing to complete the 114-mile drive to Champaign in time for his sons’ 1 p.m. game.

“My dad has more energy than probably anybody on this campus. I’d bet my money on that,” Josh said. “The guy doesn’t stop drinking Mountain Dew, it’s unbelievable.”

It turns out that what makes Cam Parr tick (other than his beverage of choice) is also what has helped steady the pulse of the Illinois baseball program.

Josh, a junior shortstop, and Justin, a sophomore transfer from Parkland College who plays second base, have a combined .304 average with 43 RBIs and 15 steals this season. The pair has understandably been a favorite among broadcasters and reporters since the opening pitch thanks to the convenient factoid of their common heredity.

But that superficial foray into their relationship is generally left at that, and in the absence of further prodding, crucial information — such as the reason for choosing walk-up songs from non-traditional bands Kutless (Josh) and Red (Justin) or why the most hot-headed gesture you’ll get from the two is a rare emphatic, impersonal “Shoot!” after striking out — is left undiscovered.

Josh says his father chose early in his life to make the Biblical verse Joshua 24:15 his family’s mantra. In it, the prophet Joshua states his intention for his family to follow the Israelites’ God instead of the faith of their ancestors.

“As far as our identity as a family, it’s the gospel and my dad raised all of us that way,” Justin said. “(Baseball) really is just a game and all this other stuff is going to fade away but the only thing that will remain is our faith.”

It was of no surprise, then, when he named his first-born child after the prophetic figure and successor of sorts to Moses.

“He was that man,” Josh said of the early innings of the Parr family. “He wanted to raise a family where the most important thing is the gospel and that’s really it.”

As for the brothers’ fortitude on the field, Justin cautioned against putting the two in a box based on their faith.

“Sometimes people say, ‘Oh, Christians (should) always be humble, never aggressive or confident,’” Justin said. “We’ve grown up very confident, but it’s more of a quiet confidence, a humility, but also very aggressive. You can be both at the same time.”

Yes, that scrappy streak that can be found in Justin, Josh and their brother and current Parkland third basemen Jordan, is a product of growing up under the guidance of a man the brothers describe as passionate, self-sacrificing and firm.

“He’s an extremely competitive person, he has a lot of energy,” Justin said of his father. “He’s a tough guy, but he also has a lot of kindness … When we’re playing he’s always there to push us, he’s very honest with us. He tells us if we’re not hustling, if we’re doing something wrong.”

According to Cam, it was that competitive edge that helped the once-undersized brothers stay on a path to the Big Ten. Whether it was in the local Chillicothe-area youth league or playing around the Parr’s rural property, Cam says the boys developed a bit of a chip on their respective shoulders.

“I would say that none of the boys were ever stars,” Cam said. “None of the boys, amongst their class, were ever the best. There were always classmates and kids that played with us that were better than them. Always.”

“We kind of talk about being grinders. They just started to have some positive things happen just because of a commitment to getting better every day, they understood that. I give them credit for the fact they did understand the meaning of getting better, doing something to get better every day and working at it.”

Perhaps none of the brothers has come further than Justin. The one who Cam says is a model of loyalty now ranks second on the Illini with a .319 batting average. However, despite hitting .506 as a high school senior at Illinois Valley Central, Justin wasn’t recruited by any Division I programs and was forced to enroll in junior college instead.

In fact, Justin didn’t know he was headed across town to join Josh until the summer before his second year at Parkland.

Justin also didn’t get a call to one of the prestigious Northwoods League summer teams until an injury gave him a chance to appear in 13 games for the Josh Parr-led Madison Mallards. Though Justin finished the stint with just a .256 average and four RBIs, he left feeling uplifted thanks to a spiritual jolt from Josh, who Cam describes as a “great listener.”

“Last year at Parkland was definitely a year where I felt I wasn’t (acting) my faith the way that I should have,” Justin said. “I’ve made changes in my life and over the summer, toward the end of summer ball for Josh, just playing in Madison, that was probably one of the biggest turning points in my faith.”

Justin’s journey to the top of the Big Ten’s batting average ranks wasn’t over quite yet, as he would be benched midway through a four-game round robin tournament in the Carbondale area March 19. After re-entering the lineup as designated hitter for a March 30 game against Illinois State, Parr would break out of his 1-for-23 slump by going on a 33-for-77 tear over the next 23 games. Justin’s work, it seems, has finally paid off.

“Everybody develops at different points, and the thing with Justin, he was the little guy in the family and so he was basically forced to go into a junior college situation because physically he wasn’t ready to play at this level,” Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb said. “And then all of a sudden he got a growth spurt and got stronger. The whole family is athletic, and he’s extremely athletic and been an asset to us.”

While he was perhaps the most heavily recruited of the three, Josh’s ride to his All-Conference status hasn’t been devoid of bumps of his own. As a sophomore, Josh committed a Big Ten-high 26 errors at shortstop. Despite hyper-extending his knee before the series opener against Iowa on April 8, Josh has been a model of consistency in the field this season in accruing a fielding percentage of .970, committing just five errors.

With Jordan on the way next year, the three will be together again on the same roster in an improbable turn of events. The boys grew up with younger sister Jessica on a piece of property Josh estimates to be a 15-minute bike ride from the neighborhood in which many of his childhood friends lived, meaning they were often left to play by themselves. Just months apart in age, Cam says the boys’ social circles overlapped, resulting in a herd of bodies that often congregated in Serengeti proportions.

“We have couches that will never be the same,” Cam said. “Each cushion of the couch smells like a different boy. It’s fun and they spent a ton of time at our house, a lot of sleepovers and we usually woke up the next morning, Saturday morning, and there was always a whole lot of cars in our driveway.”

Jordan, Justin’s twin, comes to Illinois after redshirting during his freshman year at Illinois State. Cam describes him as the plan-maker and fun-lovin. The biggest of the three boys, Jordan figures to also bring power to the Illini lineup next season, as evidenced by his three-home run performance last weekend for Parkland.

“Jordan is a very fiery person, he has a great personality,” Josh said. “He’s a strong kid, he likes to hit the ball, and the way that (Illinois hitting) Coach (Eric) Snider teaches hitting he’ll be very good for Jordan.”

Jordan’s signing means he and Justin will be in the same kind of close contact that sometimes caused sparks when they were growing up, though Josh says the unique relationship was strengthened by the occasional rifts.

“They competed in a lot of different things, whether it was just video games or shooting hoops and there was quite a bit of fighting between the two, a real sibling rivalry but with their relationship, I can definitely tell you that steel sharpens steel,” Josh said.

“We’re the kind of brothers who would be fighting and extremely mad at each other one minute and then the next minute we’re best friends again,” Justin said. “It was something where it definitely helped us become more competitive … and it helps us prepare for the next level of people aren’t always going to hand you everything.”

Jordan’s move to Champaign means that after leaving home for three separate schools in the Fall of 2009, all three will be potentially manning the Illini infield with the possibility of having high school teammate Drasen Johnson on the mound. With Justin, Josh and Jordan already together on Thursday nights and the former two already clicking in the Illinois lineup, Cam says that having Jordan in the dugout will only create more memories.

“You know that 10 years down the road, and 15 years down the road, we’ll be sitting around the table at Thanksgiving, and they’re going to be talking about a lot of the same stuff,” Cam said. “As a parent, you just absolutely feel very blessed, and it’s just a real thrill to see your kids be able to share something like that together. It’s a dream come true.”