ARLINGTON, Texas -- If any mixed emotions remained for Rafael Palmeiro, they're gone now. One pitch from Texas rookie Rick Helling -- a fastball thrown behind his $30.35 million back -- and Palmeiro became an Oriole once and for all.
"The cord has been cut," Palmeiro said. "Whatever feelings were left, it's now over. What really hurts is that I stood out there for a half-hour before the game signing autographs, and those same fans booed. That's pretty sad."
Palmeiro seemed most upset by the fans' reaction afterward, but manager Johnny Oates was equally livid that the right-handed ++ Helling threw so far behind the left-handed-hitting Palmeiro.
"It was ridiculous," Oates said. "The guy hasn't missed by 6 inches all night, and he threw one more than 5 feet behind him. My only question is, why did he do it?"
"Unintentionally, it's impossible to do. Whether it was his own motive or someone else's, I'm not smart enough to know that. But I do know it's impossible to throw one pitch that far out of
the strike zone out of 110."
Only Helling knows his true intentions, but he wouldn't even admit to throwing at Palmeiro in the fourth inning of the Rangers' 8-3 victory. Texas manager Kevin Kennedy said his pitcher was "definitely" not trying to hit Palmeiro.
Before the game, Palmeiro seemed ready to put his Texas days behind him, but last night's incident opened new wounds. Initially, Palmeiro took a few steps toward Helling, then pointed at catcher Ivan Rodriguez and exchanged words.
Plate umpire Ken Kaiser issued warnings to both teams, and Palmeiro flied out weakly to center on Helling's next pitch. The crowd, which had given Palmeiro a fairly warm reception earlier, booed him loudly as he returned to the dugout and in his later at-bats.
So much for home sweet home.
"The fans really surprised me," Palmeiro said. "I've never been booed that bad, ever, in the big leagues. I mean, on the road, the fans don't really react that much. But it was pretty bad. . . . I never thought that would happen here. But fans forget quickly, I guess."
Rest assured, Palmeiro won't. He once pictured this as his field of dreams, but now it's just another ballpark -- excuse us, The Ballpark, a Texas-sized Camden Yards rip-off that is Lone Star tacky, missing only a cattle pen and an oil field.
"I don't feel cheated at all," Palmeiro said as he sat in the Orioles' dugout before the game, with four television stations from the Dallas-Fort Worth area recording his every word. "Look where I'm at. I'm at Camden Yards. Everyone wants to play there."
Finally, he's with the program. Finally, his baseball journey has come full circle. Funny how these things work out. On the night he returned to Texas, the night he entered the Rangers' new park, Palmeiro finally started to sound like an Oriole.
Pretty soon, he'll be Mr. Baltimore, attending John Waters screenings, spewing expletives at the mention of Paul Tagliabue, calling everyone "Hon." He certainly didn't mind talking last night about the joys of playing in a real baseball town.
"There's nothing like it," Palmeiro said in the dugout before the game. "The thing here is, you have the Cowboys. That's No. 1 in Dallas. Everything else takes a back seat.
"I didn't appreciate the fact that last year in the pennant race, as soon as rookie camp started, we were the last piece of news. We don't have that problem in Baltimore. We don't have to compete with anything. We're it."
The difference was plainly evident on this cloudless 70-degree night, when the Rangers drew only 37,760 to a park that seats nearly 50,000. It was nearly the second time in four dates they've drawn under 35,000 -- something that has happened only once in dates at Camden Yards.
Full house or not, Palmeiro viewed last night as a final emotional hurdle. He signed autographs before the game, chatting with fans in both English and Spanish. A banner in right field said, "Rafael, thanks for the memories." Yet, Palmeiro knew how quickly the fans could turn. As he said, "I'm the enemy now."
That much became clear in the fourth inning. It seemed obvious that Helling threw at Palmeiro. He once drilled Jose Canseco in an intrasquad game. He hadn't walked a batter to that point. And of the seven pitches he threw that inning, six were strikes.
Palmeiro quickly forgave Rodriguez -- he tapped him on the helmet and patted him on the back after the catcher drew a walk in the bottom half. But even before the game, he made it clear that he no longer had the same feelings for Texas.
"I'm anxious to get out of town again," Palmeiro said. "I was looking forward to coming. But now I'm anxious to get out, getting back to Baltimore."
Spoken like a former Ranger.
Spoken like a true Oriole.