Former Orioles great Rafael Palmeiro said the idea of his youngest son, Preston, being drafted by his old club in the seventh round Friday was a tremendous moment for the entire family.
“I’m thankful he’s going to get an opportunity to play and I’m so proud of him,” Rafael Palmeiro told BaltimoreBaseball.com. “He’s made himself into a great ballplayer and for him to be drafted, especially by Baltimore, he knows everything that comes with it and he is ready to make his mark, I believe. And I believe the Orioles will be thrilled with him and he’ll make them proud.”
The elder Palmeiro said he isn’t concerned at all that his son, a 21-year-old, left-handed-hitting first baseman at North Carolina State, with a swing reminiscent of his father, will now be further engulfed in his shadow.
“Just because it is the Orioles, yeah, it adds an extra layer of, I don’t know if it is pressure, but I know he is excited about it,” Palmeiro said. “He’s not going to shy away.”
Rafael Palmeiro starred in Baltimore for seven of his 20 superb seasons as a major leaguer. In 2005, he became just the fourth player in the sport’s history to amass at least 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. But that same year Palmeiro’s legacy crumbled and his career ended abruptly after he tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid stanozolol, something he maintains he never knowingly took. He believes it must have been in a tainted dose of Vitamin B12 that he received from then-teammate Miguel Tejada.
That episode in his career – which basically ended a month later – kept him out of the Hall of Fame (he fell off the ballot in January 2014 because he received fewer than five percent of that year’s vote).
That chapter, his previous infamous denial that he ever used performance-enhancers, and all the success he had as a big leaguer should not have any effect on his son as he attempts to make a name for himself in the Orioles organization, Palmeiro said.
“He’s always had to deal with it, both of them, (older brother) Patrick also, they’ve always had to deal with the pressure of playing, I guess, in my shadow, whether it was the great things I did in baseball or how the tragedy at the end kind of ruined everything,” Palmeiro said. “They’ve learned to live with that kind of stuff. That’s not going to matter to Preston. Because Preston is Preston. He is not playing for me or anybody else, but himself. He’s going to create his own identity.”
Palmeiro said, leading up to the draft, Orioles representatives asked both him and his son whether they thought being selected by the Orioles would be too difficult to handle. On the contrary, they both replied.
“We were totally all in, totally love the idea, it would be great,” Rafael Palmeiro said. “I’m separate from him. Give him a shot”
And the father hopes baseball fans will also see it that way.
“I hope people are fair with him and not judge him on anything I ever did or any of my mistakes. Let him be Preston, and hopefully people will appreciate the work and effort he puts in.”
Palmeiro, 20, was selected by the Orioles in the seventh round (211 overall) Friday after hitting .337 with nine homers and 20 doubles in 59 games as a junior for the Wolfpack.
In the mid-2000s, he and Patrick, now an infielder for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League, were fixtures in the Orioles’ clubhouse and on the field before games, taking batting practice and grounders from their famous dad. Back then, Preston was a pudgy, long-haired kid who was always doing something baseball-related.
“This is his lifelong dream. Obviously, he was brought up in the clubhouse, not only there, but in Texas when he was little bitty, but he remembers more up in Baltimore because he was a little bit older,” Palmeiro said. “But just being there, being with the guys and having the experiences he had for those short years (in 2004 and 2005), that’s all he has ever wanted to do. So I’m really proud of him, because he worked his butt off to make this thing happen. He deserves every bit of it.”
The younger Palmeiro is now 6-foot, 185 pounds, built like his father with a similar swing; Rafael Palmeiro’s left-handed stroke is considered one of the most flawless in recent baseball history.
“He has my swing, it’s identical. Really, it is,” said Palmeiro, who was a first-round draft pick in 1985 by the Chicago Cubs. “He has a chance to be a really good ballplayer. He is basically me when I was about 30-years-old as far as knowledge of the game and understanding hitting and hitting situations. He still has to go through the failures of the game, and the preparation and the mindset. … You never know how a person is going to perform, but I know his work ethic and he has great potential. And I can see him doing a lot of great things for the Orioles in the future.”
Right now, Palmeiro’s power isn’t where it needs to be for him to be considered an elite corner infield prospect. But his dad thinks that will come with maturation, especially once he leaves N.C. State’s home park, which is a challenge for power hitters.
Palmeiro said his son is ready to begin his pro career, though they haven’t discussed the money it will take for him to sign with the Orioles. Really, they haven’t had much time to talk at all since the announcement was made Friday afternoon.
They were texting back and forth as the draft was continuing. The Palmeiros thought Preston may be picked in the fourth or fifth round; as the draft continued, both were nervous. But they knew the Orioles had major interest, and when Rafael Palmeiro saw his son’s name and the Orioles together on Twitter, he said he couldn’t have been happier.
It’ll be the second time one of his sons has been a part of the Orioles.
Patrick Palmeiro, who played several years in the Chicago White Sox organization, was actually with the Orioles’ minor leaguers this spring, but was released before regular season games began. But Rafael Palmeiro said he spent some time in Sarasota at the Orioles’ minor league complex watching Patrick play. And now he expects to watch as many games as he can of Preston’s career, though he said he won’t become a distraction.
“I am his dad, but I’ll stay out of his way as much as possible,” he said. “I just don’t want to be in the way, but I’ll help him when I can. That’s it, nothing is going to change.”
What Palmeiro really wants to experience is seeing his son play for the Orioles at Camden Yards. He said he really can’t imagine what that day would be like.
“I think that would be the thrill of my life. It would surpass anything I ever did, anything I ever accomplished,” said Palmeiro, whose 223 homers as an Oriole are fifth most in club history. “To experience that would be hard to describe. It would be beyond anything I’ve ever dreamed of, really.”