Palermo's pitch is one from the heart World Series notes

October 21, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

MINNEAPOLIS -- When he was contacted two weeks ago and asked to consider throwing out the first ball to start the World Series, there were two reasons why Steve Palermo knew he had to accept.

"The commissioner's office called me at the start of the playoffs and asked me to think about it," said Palermo. "Believe me, there was a lot of agonizing thought. I didn't want to go out there and embarrass myself."

But Palermo knew what his answer would be -- indeed, what it had to be. Ever since he was shot while helping to foil a robbery attempt in the early morning hours of July 7, the veteran of 14 years on the American League umpiring staff has been on a mission.

"I made myself a promise to get back on the field before the season was over," he said. "I kept my promise.

"And," Palermo said emotionally, "if I didn't do it for myself, I wanted to do it for all the people who have been so supportive of me."

A day after he walked to the pitcher's mound, aided by leg braces and arm supports, and threw out the first ball for Game 1 of the World Series, Palermo sat in the third base dugout and talked about the moment.

"There was a lot of humanitarian feelings on that field [Saturday] night," he said. The Metrodome crowd of 55,108 had accorded him two thunderous ovations as he went on and off the field.

"Everything that has happened to me since I was shot has been positive," said Palermo. "There are a lot of warm feelings that have generated a lot of love for people.

"I don't know how those words sound coming out of my mouth, but I hope it sounds like they're coming from my heart."

Palermo was asked if he thought his misfortune had drawn attention to the people in his profession. "Well," he said, resorting to his rapid wit, "it proved that umpires aren't bullet-proof.

"I guess maybe it has drawn attention to the fact that we're real people -- that good things and tragedies can happen to us," said Palermo.

The spinal cord injury he suffered has made the odds long against his return to the field, but Palermo vows to beat them. Two questions elicited responses that emphasized his determination.

Asked how it felt to throw the first pitch to home plate, Palermo replied: "I'd rather be throwing it back to the mound after a foul ball -- that would mean I was umpiring again."

When someone wanted to know if he was going to the World Series games in Atlanta, Palermo said: "No, I have got to go back to [rehabilitation[ work. Two days away is enough. I'd like to be going to be going to Atlanta -- in a different capacity."

Palermo's program entails about six hours of therapy, six days a week. He says he has drawn strength from two youngsters at the Dallas Rehabilitation Institute.

"Cody is 8 yeas old and he was supposed to be dead five months ago," said Palermo. "He was thrown from a horse and banged against a post. Now he has all the actions of a normal 8-year-old. He came to me the other day and said: 'You're going to have to get along without me buddy, because I'm going home Oct. 31.'

"Mitchell is 11 years and was hit by a car and he wasn't supposed to make it either, but he's coming along. Those two kids have pushed me, they've been a great inspiration."

* TWINS' BULLPEN THROWS BLANKS: The Twins' bullpen has not allowed an earned run in 21 1/3 innings of postseason play this year. Overall, Twins relievers haven't allowed an earned run in postseason play in 26 1/3 innings, dating back to Game 6 of the 1987 World Series.

Rick Aguilera struck out three in the ninth inning last night to get his second straight save. He is the first reliever to save the first two games since Goose Gossage did it for the Yankees 10 years ago.

* WHAT IS THIS, THE NBA? The home-field advantage has become prevalent in World Series play. Going back to Game 5 of the 1986 World Series, the home team has won 19 of the last 25 games.

The Twins have not lost a World Series game at the Metrodome (6-0) and have lost only one of eight postseason games played there.

This is the fifth straight year that the home team has taken a 2-0 advantage, and the previous four have gone on to win the World Series. Prior to 1987, however, the three previous teams to win the first two games ended up losers -- the 1981 Yankees, the 1985 Cardinals and the 1986 Red Sox.

* LONNIE ON THE LOOSE: Not only is Lonnie Smith the first player ever to play in four World Series with four different teams, he's also something of a roving leadoff designated hitter.

In the 43 games in which the rule has been in effect the World Series, only four times has the DH served as the leadoff man -- for the Phillies in Game 4, 1980, the Cardinals in Game 5, 1982 and the Braves in the first two games of this series. In each case, Smith was the leadoff DH.

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