Palmeiro has no complaints about life or even All-Star voting

June 23, 1994|By Bill Tanton

At Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Palmeiro stepped up to the plate and peered out at the pitcher's mound.

He took a big cut -- right-handed.

Oh, this wasn't Rafael Palmeiro, the Orioles' leading hitter.

This was Patrick Ryne (for Ryne Sandberg) Palmeiro, the 4-year-old son of Rafael and Lynne Palmeiro.

This was at 4 p.m., and the park was empty except for the three members of the Palmeiro family, gathered at the home plate end of the Orioles dugout.

"Don't forget your helmet," Rafael advised his son.

Patrick, wearing T-shirt, shorts and tennis shoes, ran to the Orioles helmet rack and immediately picked out his father's.

It was much too big, naturally. Patrick heaved it back, the black helmet crashing to the dugout floor.

Rafael and Lynne watched the way any young married couple would gaze upon an exuberant son like this: with total delight.

"Give daddy a kiss," Lynne told Patrick. "It's time for him to go to work."

This is life for the Palmeiros these days, and a good life it is.

Rafael, possessor of a $30 million contract, is having an outstanding year on a club that's in second place in the American League East.

Lynne and Patrick are at the park for every home game. They stay there to the end, even when games last nearly four hours. Patrick stays awake, too.

"I couldn't ask for anything better," Rafael says. "Baltimore is a fantastic place to play. You can see the ballpark from where we live. It's five minutes away.

"I feel right at home here. I have from the beginning."

It's not a perfect life, of course. No life ever is. But this one is about as close to perfection as it gets.

With the Orioles going on the road, Lynne and Patrick are headed back to Texas, where Rafael played the past five years. They go there to check on the home the family is building.

Things are so good for the Palmeiros that Rafael isn't even bothered by his position among AL first basemen in the All-Star balloting.

He's fifth behind Frank Thomas, John Olerud, Will Clark and Don Mattingly.

That bothers me. A little.

The All-Stars are picked by the fans, and in Baltimore, where there's a sellout crowd of 47,000-plus for every game, the fans should be voting for Palmeiro in greater numbers.

It looks from here like another case of the Baltimore fans' sitting on their hands.

Our fans may pack Camden Yards, but they allow a few thousand Yankees people to make more noise. That happened on the recent homestand.

Now they're letting Yankees fans outvote them.

"The Baltimore fans are doing fine in the balloting," Rafael says. "These are great fans here. I think I'll come up a little bit in the voting as we get closer to the All-Star Game."

Palmeiro knows he's not going to be No. 1 in the voting.

"Look at this," he says as he studies the latest tabulations from the commissioner's office. "Frank Thomas deserves to be No. 1. He's having a good year.

"You know Olerud is going to get a lot of votes. Will Clark is having a real good year. He has a lot of RBIs. Mattingly is an outstanding player."

Orioles manager Johnny Oates is less than thrilled with the balloting where Palmeiro is concerned.

"Raffy has come up from seventh to fifth," Oates says, "but, still, there's no way he's the No. 5 first baseman in our league. He should be third at worst."

Nobody disputes Frank Thomas' being No. 1, but Oates says the fans are voting for Olerud based on last year. Olerud flirted with .400 for much of that season and wound up at .363; he's under .300 now.

"The All-Star Game should not be a popularity contest," Oates says. "The players who are doing the job that particular year should be the ones picked for the team."

Oates realizes that Palmeiro is not going to be on this All-Star team (Rafael has been on two of them, in '88, when he was with the Cubs, and in '91, when he was a Ranger).

"Frank Thomas is going to be the first baseman," Oates says, "and Cito [Gaston, the Toronto manager] will pick the rest of the team.

"After Thomas, he'll pick his own guy [Olerud]. That's fine. He's the manager. I know I'd pick my guy if I was the manager."

Oates sees Palmeiro play every day, which is why he has become the guy's biggest fan.

"Raffy has been great for us," Oates says with a big, pleased smile. "He's played every game but one. He's hit third for us.

"What I like is his consistency. He wants to play and he gives you the same thing every night.

"He's good in the dugout, too. If the club falls behind early in a ballgame, he's in there telling the guys we'll catch up. He'll remind them we still have five or six innings or whatever it is to get 'em.

"I knew him when we were both with the Cubs. He was always a good man on the club."

There'll be no outcry from Palmeiro if he's at home instead of in Pittsburgh on July 12. The Orioles' season is the one that matters.

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