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Gerardo Parra makes the most of Opening Day nod

PHOENIX — Gerardo Parra arrived at Chase Field on Opening Day wearing a black “YOLO!” t-shirt.

He started in right field and batted leadoff for the Diamondbacks, who were without presumed everyday outfielders Adam Eaton and Cody Ross. And he made the most of it.

In the first Diamondbacks at-bat of the season, Parra sent a 92-mile-per-hour Adam Wainwright sinker to the left field wall, coming inches shy of a leadoff home run en route to a standup double. Later, in the bottom of the seventh, he nearly matched the effort, this time hammering a ball toward the right-center field porch, again coming within a bat’s length of a home run.

Parra was 4-for-5 with three doubles and a run by the end of the game, which the Diamondbacks won 6-2 behind a strong showing from starting pitcher Ian Kennedy.

It was the second Opening Day start of Parra’s career, but this cap, in particular, comes with a back story.

Signed by the Diamondbacks as an amateur free agent in 2004, the then 17-year-old Parra spent the first two years of his professional baseball career in his native land of Venezuela. Three years after that, he had worked his way through the organization’s minor league circuit, skipping Triple-A ball altogether prior to his call-up.

Since then, Parra has played in nearly 530 major league games, recording a career batting average of .282 while providing excellent defense from every position in the outfield.

Last season, Opening Day had a degree of ambivalence for Parra. Prior to the game, he received his 2011 Gold Glove award before a crowd of 49,130. But moments later, Parra was on the bench for first pitch — freshly ousted from the left field post where he had earned defensive honors the season before. Instead, offseason acquisition Jason Kubel was starting in left for the Diamondbacks while Parra had been tagged as the team’s fourth outfielder.

Circumstances, however, gave Parra a fair share of playing time last year. He played in 133 games and got 385 at-bats, going .273/.335/.392.

But things looked to be heading in a familiar direction for Parra this offseason, when the Diamondbacks acquired free agent outfielder Cody Ross while making it clear that Adam Eaton would serve as the team’s everyday leadoff man. Yet, after both outfielders suffered injuries in spring training, Parra got the Opening Day nod.

It isn’t easy to project Parra’s role when Ross and Eaton return to health. But it could be largely up to him and his performance in the interim.

As Karlie O’ Hearn rehearsed the national anthem a couple of hours before first pitch, I found Parra in the Diamondbacks dugout manicuring his bats. “What’s your role on this team a couple of months from now?” I asked.

“I don’t really think (about that),” he replied. “I just want to play hard today, tomorrow, day by day.”

Apparently the response wasn’t just cliché lip service, given his standout night.

“If you play baseball hard,” Parra explained, “you’ll stay happy in the game.”

With a four-run lead and two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning of Monday’s game, Parra laced a line drive to the right-center field gap, rounded first base, and evaded an attempted tag as he slid headfirst into second for a blue-collar double. The lead was comfortable, the situation was seemingly inconsequential, and there wasn’t a whole lot of expectation on a guy who was already 3-for-4. Parra nevertheless brought the same fiery energy he brings to every at-bat.

After all, You Only Live Once.