In August 2001, Jeff Parker was head of the California Angels minor league farm system.
That month, a talented pitcher wanted out of his contract because he was being demoted to the Angels’ low-level A team. The pitcher’s lack of commitment, Parker said, disgusted him. In the end, the pitcher was not released; instead, he was suspended indefinitely.
“We didn’t want to develop quitters,’’ Parker said in a New York Time’s interview that year.
Parker’s response shows his inexhaustible drive for success and his desire to create teams with the same conviction — not just in baseball but in business. That’s one reason Parker was awarded the local Five Guys Burger and Fries franchise, despite never having worked in the restaurant business.
“He knows how to handle people,” said Mark Moseley director of franchise sales for Five Guys. “We knew he would be a great franchisee.”
In May 2008, Parker left a 22-year baseball career that included being the Angels’ director of player development and a partial ownership in the Chicago Cubs’ double-A minor league team, the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx in Jackson, Tenn., to begin building his burger territory. Parker, who now lives in Colorado Springs, has exclusive rights to open Five Guys restaurants in Douglas, El Paso and Pueblo counties. He also shares the franchise rights in Boston, Maine and Rhode Island with Miles Prentice, whom Parker met while working with the Angels.
Parker opened his first Five Guys at 7252 N. Academy Blvd. in the Springs in December 2008. Today he has a total of three restaurants, including one each in Castle Rock and Lone Tree. He is looking for a fourth location.
If the transition from baseball to burgers seems disjointed, it is not, Parker said. The skills required to create both systems are the same. Parker looks at his Five Guys customers through the same lens he used as a minority owner of the Diamond Jaxx. Each of his Five Guys restaurants has “season ticket holders” — regular customers on which a business survives, he said.
While with the Angels, Parker worked with prospective big leaguers who came from the penthouses of New York to the dirt floor homes of Latin America. The talent and tenacity he sought in those players is the same he seeks in his Five Guys employees.
“You want a person that is going to care about what they are doing and be energetic and have enthusiasm,” Parker said, “and who wants to get out of bed and make something happen.”
Parker became the number two guy in the Angels clubhouse when he was only 18. It was there he honed his work ethic, time management skills and commitment to execution that eventually landed him in the Angels’ front office, despite “the unglamorous job of picking up socks and jocks,” said William Bavasi, the Angels’ former general manager who promoted Parker.
“He would grind it out,” Bavasi said, “even through the tough, lousy work, which is what the clubhouse is.”
Parker was a team player, but he also wasn’t afraid to speak up, Bavasi said. He said Parker often offered Angels managers contrary opinions that helped with team decisions. He was constantly prepared for his daily job, always thought ahead to solve problems before they arose and was never afraid to admit when he had made a mistake, Bavasi said.
“If there is anyone who doesn’t like working for him, I probably don’t even want to know them,” Bavasi said.
Parker’s can-do, team-player attitude also helped win him the Five Guys Franchise, Moseley said.
“He follows the rules, and the way we ask him to run the restaurants,” he said, “and he has proven that you can be successful if you run them that way.”
Parker was born and raised in Orange, Calif., and started his big league career in 1986 as an Angels’ batboy at age 15. He was promoted to club house manager in 1988. Two years later, Bavasi moved Parker into the front office, sent him to scout school and made him assistant director of scouting and player development. Parker became director of player development in 1998.
What he remembers most from those days is the not the players, but the people who passed through the club house.
“Gene Autry, Ronald Reagan, war heroes,” he said. “They all pass through a big league locker room.”
But by 1999, Parker was growing weary of the travel and stress associated with helping build a possible World Series team. He had met his wife, Mindy, and wanted to start a family. So Parker left the major leagues in 2000 to become general manager of the Altoona Curve, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Double-A franchise owned by Bob Lozinak. In 2002, Lozinak bought the Diamond Jaxx, and Parker moved to Tennessee to become that team’s general manager and a minority owner. All four of his children, Paige, 10, Elena, 8, Mike 6, and Annette, 5, were born in Jackson.
As Parker’s family grew, baseball’s luster continued to fade. He wanted more for his family. He wanted to create a secure financial environment and a business where his kids could work as teenagers and perhaps eventually own themselves.
After Lozinak sold the Jaxx to Nashville businessman David Freeman in May 2008, Parker began considering several franchise options, including a tire service center.
He settled on the Five Guys franchise for several reasons. It is a family owned and operated business. He liked the simplicity of the menu, the company’s business model and the support the company provided franchises owners.
He chose the Springs franchise area because he liked the city’s location, its mountains and felt it was a good place to raise his family.
“It is a great franchise,” Parker said. “I love it. I would not go back and do anything different at all.”
The burger business gives Parker more time to be with his kids. “And I don’t have to win a major league championship to be a great dad,” he said.
Still there is risk involved with owning and operating a business, just as there is with signing players to baseball contracts. It’s his name on the restaurant rental contracts, food orders and utility bills. But that risk, Parker said, should not keep people on the bench.
“There is always the risk of failure, but if you are afraid of that risk, you will never even learn to ride a bike,” he said. “You will never do anything.”
Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275.