This is longer than usual, but I felt the backstory needed to be told. It is also from the first person since it was a personal experience.
Becoming a credentialed media member was a lifelong dream for an old baseball nerd like me. When the opportunity arose, I didn’t know what to expect. I would be given access to players, coaches and other media members. What I never expected, was an interaction with a players family. But that changed when I met Joe Palumbo. (Can you guess who his son is?)
Let’s start from the beginning. Last Tuesday was media day for the Frisco Roughriders. This would be my first experience to use a credential. The team took their pictures and then we were granted interviews with any requested players. Naturally, I requested the three-headed monster, Brock Burke, Jonathon Hernandez, and Joe Palumbo. The three were slated to lead the rotation and are highly regarded prospects. They are all in the Dallas Sports Nation TOP 20 PROSPECTS
The interviews went fine. I got the tape of all three and proceeded to the exit. That’s when this 51-year-old made his first technological mistake. I accidentally erased my Palumbo tape. My first thought was to cuss. (I can neither confirm or deny if I did) My second thought was to throw my phone out of anger. (fortunately, I did not do this) But as I turned around, there was Palumbo walking towards me alone. I explained my predicament and politely asked if I could get him to answer my questions a second time. He laughed at my technical ignorance and said sure.
Before this, I was already a fan of Joe Palumbo. I love the underdog story about a 30th round pick becoming a major leaguer. Now this made me an even bigger fan.
Enter his dad.
Thursday night was opening day for the Roughriders. After dropping my stuff in the press box, I proceeded to the bullpen where Burke would be warming up for his start. Joe Palumbo joined the rest of the pitching staff in the bullpen after Burke got warm. I noticed him walk over and talk to a man he obviously knew. I assumed his it was his father but wasn’t sure. I also wasn’t going to bug the guy, so I went back to the press box.
Saturday night I was at Dr. Pepper Ball Park again. Heath Criswell and I watched the game from the press box. We kept score and watched the inner workings of Dr. Pepper Ball Park from there. In front of us was the official scorer, scoreboard attendant, pitch clock and MLB stat cast crew. Getting to see the whole experience was rewarding.
While leaving the park I noticed Joe Palumbo Sr standing near the exit watching fireworks. That’s when I decided to make my approach. I asked him if he was related to Palumbo. He said yes and introduced himself. We had a very pleasant 10-minute conversation and then I left.
Sunday was Palumbo day. Joe was starting and I again went to the bullpen. Like Burke, I wanted to watch him warm up. His dad was there and we immediately shook hands and I made a few introductions. I agreed to come by during the game and watch with him. He had no clue how fired up I was to do that. He was being polite to a writer who had praised his son. I, however, was getting to watch a side of baseball that has always intrigued me; a parents perspective.
Now I never really expected to write about this. But I had to share the experience. Not just as a writer, but as a parent.
Burke and Hernandez had come out of their starts after 5 innings throwing 83 and 84 pitches. It was a safe bet that Palumbo was on an 85 pitch count. Before the start of the fifth, he was at 72. So I made my way to where his dad was. It was a great move on my part. From the moment I sat down, I knew this was going to be enjoyable.
Palumbo was on a hard pitch count. He left the game after 86 pitches with two outs in the fifth. “He’s gonna be upset”, Joe Sr said. “He wants to finish the inning.” I nodded in agreement. He continued, “that kid is the most competitive kid I have ever seen. He hates to lose.” I could see that on his face as he left the game.
Now I feel I could write a book about the back and forth between Joe Palumbo Sr and myself. But let’s talk a little about what I learned. My guess is most of you will be interested to learn this also.
Did you know that Joe Palumbo didn’t pitch his senior year of high school? He had transferred his junior year to a private school. After a good season, some miscommunication and a rival coach’s protest, he was deemed ineligible for his senior year. So Joe played in a men’s league for former D1 prospects and former players who played on weekends. But he was only 17. Joe Sr kept on the phone trying to get scouts out to his games. The local Yankees and Mets scouts would come every once in a while. But the Rangers were really following him; they went to all of his games. “The Rangers have been great to my boy”, Joe Sr told me. “T Money (Takeshi Sakurayama, the Rangers NY area scout) has been on Joe for a long time.”
Did you know Joe didn’t want to play college ball? His dream was to play pro baseball since he was a kid. He grew up a Mets fan. He started playing when he was 7. I asked Joe Sr if he played any other sports. “He never really did”, he said. “He tried football and hockey when he was little, but wasn’t a fan. He loved playing baseball”, he continued. I also asked him about the day Joe was drafted. “I was watching the draft on the computer,” Joe Sr said. “In the 20th round I called T Money to see if they were still interested,” he added. Sakarayama said they were still on Joe and they ended up taking him 10 rounds later. “They wanted to know if Joe would sign,” Sr said. “I said yes! He wants to go pro and he will sign.” It was Palumbo’s dream to play pro ball and Joe Sr knew it.
Hearing a dad talk about the hardest day in a child’s life was emotional. Palumbo had really broke out in 2016. He was on everyone’s radar going into 2017. After only 14 innings of the 2017 season, he felt something in his left elbow. “I’ll never forget that day”, Palumbo Sr said. “Joe was crying. I was crying. Joe had worked so hard to get where he was and then this happens”, he continued. “My wife came to Dallas for the surgery because I couldn’t get away from work. Dr. Meister was great.”
The evening got fun later. In the eighth inning, the Riders were still down 1-0 and Joe Palumbo was on the hook for the loss. Had anyone told me that I would be high fiving and bro-hugging Joe Palumbo’s dad, I would have said you are crazy. Now I know this is hard to believe, but Joe Sr CALLED the game-tying home run by Ledarious Clark. I had just said that Frisco needed a run to get Joe off the hook for the loss. That’s when Sr leaned in. “If Clark gets his pitch, he will tie this game up.” Next pitch went 430 ft over the center field wall. Joe Palumbo Sr and I were ecstatic. I was a fan and not media at that point (Not that really ever wasn’t).
At one point Joe Sr got a call. I could tell it was probably his wife or a family member. “Was that momma?” I asked. He nodded and smiled. “Yep, that was the boss.” I almost spit my water out. I replied laughing, “I call my wife, my event coordinator.” Joe was laughing and said, “That’s a great one, I am going to use that.”
Did you know that Joe Palumbo has three younger sisters? I really enjoyed listening to Joe Sr talk about his other kids. The pride in his girls was evident. All three in college and the youngest two are twins. I also enjoyed that he seemed genuinely interested in my kids. At that moment we were two dads bragging on our children. How do you not dig that as a parent?
The Rain started in the ninth. Joe Sr and I found ourselves under the concourse still jabbering like old friends. I took him to the press box to see where all the magic is. The Roughriders have an impressive setup and it is easy to be amazed. The staff is friendly and he was invited back anytime.
Once the game was officially suspended, Joe Sr, Heath Criswell and I made our way to the parking lot. Joe and his dad had dinner plans. Heath and I were headed home. Joe Sr and I shook hands and said our goodbyes. We promised to get a beer next time he was in town. Now I know that usually people promise to get a beer, but don’t necessarily mean it. But I think Joe Sr isn’t that way. As a parent, you always become friends with people who like your children. Either way, I owe the guy a beer and I will be pulling for his boy.
Thanks for visiting with me Joe. I hope you have a safe trip home. Let’s get a cold one when you come back.
Featured Image: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports