Palmeiro wasting no time in finding his comfort zone

April 08, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

The silver-haired gentleman soaking up the Florida sunshine turned to the child seated beside him and made innocent conversation.

"Rooting for the Orioles?" he asked with a smile.

Looking as if someone had wondered if he liked Santa Claus, Patrick Ryne Palmeiro wasted no time in answering Roland Hemond's unnecessary question.

"Those are my friends out there," the 4-year-old boy told the 64-year-old man.

Clearly, this is a child who makes friends swiftly.

Patrick will watch his new friends, the Orioles, play his old friends, the Texas Rangers, in a three-game series that begins tonight at Camden Yards.

The younger Palmeiro, in part named after Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg, already has become a fixture in the Orioles' clubhouse. He matches players' faces with their names and always knows where to find his favorite Oriole, the man who used to be his favorite Ranger.

"He likes to play baseball," Rafael Palmeiro said of his son. "He picks it up on his own, and you can tell already he has good hand-eye coordination."

Wonder where he inherited that?

Palmeiro's transition to the Orioles has been nearly as smooth as his 4-year-old son's move to a new city.

Scarred by the Rangers' decision to break off negotiations with him and sign former college teammate Will Clark, Palmeiro does his best to say he is finished looking back.

"Those are gone," Palmeiro said of his bitter feelings toward the Rangers. "I realize now I'm in a better situation and I'm looking forward to bigger and better things."

Just in case, the Oriole Park regulars let him know he has reason to feel wanted on Opening Day, applauding him so vociferously he had to tip his cap. And that was before Palmeiro homered in two of his first six at-bats with the Orioles. Two more tips of the cap later, Palmeiro likes his new address even better.

"I feel comfortable," Palmeiro said. "I feel real comfortable. Monday was awesome."

Palmeiro, wife Lynne, and their son Patrick were prepared to live in their dream home in Arlington, Texas, until negotiations broke down.

It wasn't the first disappointment of his career. Drafted by the Cubs, Palmeiro did not welcome the trade from Chicago to Texas on Dec. 5, 1988.

"Chicago was pretty awesome and I have a feeling this is going to be even better," Palmeiro said. "It seems like the fans are real knowledgeable about the game and they really support the team. We were in the mall the other day and I was recognized already, which really surprised me."

In a sense, Palmeiro was destined to play for the Orioles.

As a youth in Miami, the Cuban-born Palmeiro and his buddies didn't have to buy baseballs. They just waited for them to fly over the fences of the Orioles' spring training facility in Miami. Then they ran them down.

"I liked watching Ken Singleton and Eddie Murray," Palmeiro said. "They stood out the most."

Years later, Palmeiro played at Mississippi State, where he and Clark stood out the most. Palmeiro's harsh winter words aimed at Clark have given way to resignation, even excitement. Clark is a Ranger, Palmeiro an Oriole. Time to move on.

"Sooner or later, there is going to come a time when playing the Rangers isn't going to be anything big," Palmeiro said.

Palmeiro won't predict a weekend hitting shootout between himself and Clark, one reminiscent of the duel waged between Clark, then playing for San Francisco, and Mark Grace of the Cubs in the 1989 National League Championship Series.

"I have no way of predicting how I am going to do in a game," Palmeiro said. "I'm sure Will is going to try to do well and I'm going to try to do well, just like we do against any team."

Clark initiated an exchange in St. Petersburg before an exhibition game by extending his hand for a shake. Palmeiro returned the gesture and they talked briefly.

Palmeiro, who made a public apology for his criticism of Clark, left behind many friends with the Rangers.

"I miss Kenny Rogers, Kevin Brown, David Hulse, Juan Gonzalez, Pudge [Ivan Rodriguez]," Palmeiro said. "They are my closest friends on the team, but I got along with all the guys."

Playing for a franchise that had behemoths Gonzalez and Jose )) Canseco and baseball legend Nolan Ryan, Palmeiro did not receive gobs of national attention. His reserved nature and average build for a power hitter might have contributed to his standing only on the edge of the spotlight before coming to Baltimore.

He has a different explanation.

"What's kept me from being a superstar is playing in Texas, where they don't market the players the way they should," Palmeiro said.

Palmeiro signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract with the Orioles after Texas signed Clark. Resentment toward the Rangers' front office remains.

"I'm not going to waste any time with them," Palmeiro said. "It's a waste of time to speak to them."

Besides, he and Patrick keep plenty busy speaking to the new friends they share.

"This is great here," Palmeiro said. "Great bunch of guys."

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