Have you hugged your slugger today?

April 02, 1994|By Ken Rosenthal

Lynne Palmeiro can walk out into her back yard and see the lights from The Ballpark in Arlington. It's not exactly The House That Rafael Built, but it figured to be his playground the rest of his career.

Fifteen minutes away, the Palmeiros are building their dream home, a five-bedroom, 15,000-square-foot palace. Lynne remembers going to Arlington Stadium and greeting parents from her son's preschool class. It won't be like that in Baltimore, not right away, maybe not ever.

Lynne said she barely slept for two weeks and lost 10 pounds in eight days after the Texas Rangers snubbed Rafael for his old Mississippi State teammate, Will Clark. But slowly, she's beginning to understand that things could work out for the best. Slowly, Baltimore is starting to look good.

What Rafael needs now is a hug, a mammoth embrace from this baseball-crazed city, a sense of belonging in a game that twice left him betrayed. Texas is home, but Baltimore can provide something just as meaningful. Baltimore can make Rafael Palmeiro feel wanted.

"Last year, when we knew he'd be a free agent, every night I prayed that the best thing for us as a family would happen," Lynne said from Arlington Thursday night, while packing for the family's move to Baltimore.

"I keep telling myself, 'OK, I got what I prayed for.' When we got traded [from the Chicago Cubs in 1988], I thought it was the end of the world, and it turned out to befor the best. I keep thinking, 'This will turn out the same way.' "

They met as sophomores at Mississippi State. They got married after Rafael's first pro season in 1985. When they left Chicago after his first full major-league season, about the only thing they owned was a dog.

Now, they have four dogs and four horses and a 4-year-old named Patrick Ryne -- his middle name is after Palmeiro's former Cubs teammate, Ryne Sandberg. But they're proof that money can't buy everything. The Palmeiro household was not a happy place after the Rangers signed Clark.

"It seemed I was mad at a different person every hour," Lynne said, listing all the notables -- her husband, Clark, Rangers president Tom Schieffer and the agents for Clark (Jeff Moorad) and Palmeiro (Jim Bronner). "Anybody I could blame -- I was looking for somebody to blame."

Rafael said Lynne indeed took it harder: "She said she felt as bad as when she lost her dad. That's how crushed she was." But Rafael -- the calmer one -- continues to blast the Rangers with little urging. What happens if he can't channel his emotions?

The Orioles don't seem worried. "Time heals things," manager Johnny Oates said. "He's good in the clubhouse and the dugout. He'll be all right. He'll make new friends. He was probably upset when he left Chicago, too."

In fact, Palmeiro had his worst season after the Cubs sent him to Texas in a nine-player trade that brought them reliever Mitch Williams and helped them win the NL East in '89. He's five years older now, but said this was a more difficult move, because he was established in Texas.

With the Orioles playing six of their first 11 games against the Rangers -- including three at the new park in Arlington -- Palmeiro could bury himself quickly. He says everything is behind him. But Lynne keeps asking him: "Are you sure? Are you sure?"

"I'm not worried about it anymore," Palmeiro said this week in St. Petersburg, Fla. "I don't think about it. What's done is done. I look forward to the great situation I'm in. It is a great situation, a great opportunity.

"When I got here, I knew it was time to play baseball -- that's what I enjoy doing. Everything else is just B.S., as far as what happened in Texas, the way they treated me. I'm ready. I'm ready, man. I'm ready to win a World Series. That's what it's all about, anyway."

All he wants is to be accepted, to be appreciated. The son of Cuban immigrants, he never had it as easy as Clark, the 1984 U.S. Olympian, the all-American boy. Where Clark is utterly confident, Palmeiro can be oddly insecure.

It was Clark who walked right up to Palmeiro during pre-game warm-ups last Saturday and extended a handshake, not the other way around. It was Clark who refused to engage in a verbal sparring match this winter, as if he still owned the upper hand in the rivalry.

He doesn't -- Palmeiro was a superior player last season, and looks like a better investment over five years. That's why he was so enraged when the Rangers signed Clark. Hadn't he proved himself once and for all?

"We were just in shock," Lynne said. "Never in my life could I have predicted it would turn out the way it did. Plus, he was so hurt, too. Usually, if he's not hitting, not performing well, you still know everything is going to be OK.

"It wasn't that I was worried he wouldn't get a job. I was just worried, 'Was he going to recover from this? Was he going to be OK?' I was worried about myself, too. Now, it's still hard for me sometimes. But I'm glad for Rafael. Overall, he's probably in a better situation.

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