Greenbrier High School right fielder Rafael Parks and Evans High School center fielder Shawn Ward can't afford to be great friends. After all, they're on opposite sides of the county's biggest rivalry in the county's biggest sport.
Still, the two baseball stars have quite a bit in common. They were classmates six years ago at Columbia Middle School. Both are known for their arm strength, speed and quick hands at the plate. As of June 7, the two athletes have one more thing in common.
Both Parks and Ward were draft picks in the 2006 Major League Baseball draft this past week. Parks went to the Houston Astros with the 879th overall pick in the 29th round. Ward was selected by the Seattle Mariners with the 1,395th pick in the 47th round.
"I honestly didn't think I would get drafted at all," Ward said. "Ken Raburn called and told me I got drafted, but I didn't believe him."
Ward's selection came after a senior year at Evans that saw the Knights advance to the state quarterfinals. From his spot in the No. 3 position of the batting order, Ward came through in several clutch situations for Evans, including a game-winning RBI single in an extra-inning region game against Statesboro.
"He's a great player. He's got power and speed," Parks said of Ward.
Ward said it was his father, Eddie Ward, who helped him get to this point in his athletic career. Eddie Ward was named All-Conference at Augusta College in 1976 and set the school record with five stolen bases in one game against Paine College.
"All his friends tell me he was the fastest man they ever saw run," Shawn Ward said.
Speed is exactly what made Parks so attractive in the draft. The Greenbrier senior hit ninth in the Wolfpack batting order, but his ability to bunt for a single and his arm strength were enough for the Houston Astros.
"It's kind of natural. Almost every boy on my father's side of the family played baseball," Parks said.
Parks credited his godparents, Carlos and Lisa Curtis, his mother, Caroline Crawford, and friends Vera and Bernard Johnson for helping him reach the next level.
"They've helped my decisions become a lot easier," Parks said. "They deserve the credit."
Both Ward and Parks said they will play college ball in the upcoming school year and enter the draft again next season. The decisions came at the encouragement of scouts from each team.
Ward will play for Middle Georgia College in the fall and said a meeting with Seattle scout Craig Bell after the draft was helpful.
"He tried to get me to hit the ball to the opposite field," Ward said. "That's what I'm going to work on. He said my hands were quick enough that I didn't have to try to pull the ball. My hands would do that naturally."
Parks said he'll attend the University of South Carolina Salkehatchie, a junior college in Allendale.
"I'm going to work on getting stronger. I want to pitch and play in the outfield," Parks said.
The decision to play at least one year of college baseball means the two county rivals might face each other again; USC Salkehatchie and Middle Georgia played each other three times this past season.
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