I remember the day, June 7th, 2014 for a very special reason. I was on the beautiful campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. My wife and I, and our family were up there to celebrate the commencement ceremonies for my oldest son, Stephen. The day was gorgeous; featuring beautiful sunshine and a clear blue sky. I remember walking across the campus to meet with Stephen that afternoon.
Meanwhile, as we made our way across the campus, and I was trying to contain the internal fatherhood glow of my oldest son just hours before graduating from one of the most prestigious schools on the planet, I heard other news that made me almost giddy.
I heard that Goffstown’s, Riley Palmer, had been drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 31st round of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft. I sent a message to Riley’s dad and another one to Riley. I was so truly happy for all of them. What a day.
The thought of Riley being drafted sent my mind’s eye into a hyper-speed journey back through time. The Villa Fields in Goffstown, and the memory of Palmer’s Rocks in right field, out by the best concession stand in Little League baseball. I thought of the towering home run my own son Stephen had hit way up into the trees in a team practice despite being cut from that 2004 Goffstown Little League All-Star Team. I thought of the highs and lows that Stephen and Riley had shared on the diamond in 2005 when Goffstown won the first of 3-consecutive State Championships in Babe Ruth baseball, but lost in the Regional Tournament, falling just short of the World Series. I raced to 2008 when my sons, Stephen and Ryan, alongside Riley and the rest, competed on an undefeated Junior Varsity team for Goffstown High School. Some where in there, probably in 2008, I remember being at Lion’s Field in Goffstown with Stephen, Ryan, Riley, and his dad just talking about baseball after one of many impromptu gatherings we did over the years, to work on hitting, fielding, throwing, or whatever it was that day. I remember Riley talking about wanting to play baseball at Miami, and wanting to play professionally.
Of course, I thought of 2010 and the State Championship American Legion team from Goffstown, featuring Riley, Stephen, Ryan, and a host of other wonderful ball players. I thought of Riley’s career at SNHU and his heroics in the NCAA DII World Series. Then, I thought of just how happy I was for the young man, Riley Palmer.
If you don’t know Riley Palmer, that’s okay, a lot of people don’t, but I am guessing a lot more people will come to know him, especially those who follow baseball. I have known Riley for many years, and although I am no expert, I can shed some light on him from the perspective of a coach, a father, a family friend, and one of Riley’s biggest fans. I wrote this piece last year, before Riley was drafted, and it might help describe Riley, at least a little bit. If I had to put a single line or thought to all of this, I would put it this way. To me, Riley is one of those rare individuals who lives in a world that he has created by hard work and a relentless will, where reality and his biggest dreams coexist in close proximity with one another.
For several months now I have held this idea that I would like to interview Riley and just talk with him about baseball, his career, his dreams, his reality, and just visit with him. I presented the idea to him at least a few months ago, some time last year, but I never really acted on it. He readily agreed, but I just sat on it, well for my own reasons I guess. I questioned my own ability to ask him pertinent questions and to do any of this any real justice. Even though this is just my own little space in the massive expanse of blog-o-sphere, I want to do it the best way I know how. Finally I sent over some questions to Riley and we started talking about getting together to chat. Well today is that day.
The questions might not be the best questions ever posed, that I can admit. Either way, I know the conversation will be great, and the topic will be one that Riley and I both love dearly; baseball.
Let’s get to the questions and answers.
What was MLB Draft Day like for you and your family? Draft day for myself was probably one of the longest days of my life. It was a day that I dreamed about my whole entire life. I remember the day like it was yesterday, a hot day in June and the sky was blue and the sun was shining. I woke up right away and I can tell you right now that I knew it was the last day of the draft and my heart was racing like crazy. The first half of the third day (of the MLB Draft) I was with my SNHU head coach Scott Loiseau and assistant coach Pat Austin. I remember my father telling me that he was running around like crazy trying to find me. Finally after a while we came across each others’ paths at 780 chestnut Street. We set up the computer on the back deck and listened to the draft on the computer. Now most kids are out relaxing, waiting for the call with their friends. I was sitting right in front of my computer listening to every pick in every round. One of my best friends was with me that day; Jon St Charles. Finally the 31st round came and the Orioles were up. That’s when I heard my name. I didn’t know what had happened. I had to wait to hear them repeat it to believe it. After that I was on cloud 9 and everything from there felt so magical.
Did you know going in that you were likely to be drafted, and by whom? In the back of my mind I knew I was going to be drafted. Whether it was a team that had spoken to me or a team out of the blue who just needed someone to take a chance on. Going into the draft I knew either that it was between the Seattle Mariners or the Baltimore Orioles.
Did the schedule at SNHU get you ready for pro ball, or do you think the two atmosphere’s are completely different? It definitely helped. Playing college baseball and the schedule at SNHU, but to be honest, they are completely different from pro ball. In Pro ball its a game every single day and then once your home stand is over you head home, pack your stuff, wake up, and get on a bus the next morning. In College you traveled a good amount, I know my sophomore, junior, and senior years we opened up in South Carolina. Summer ball was where I really got to understand long bus rides. It was a combination of summer ball and college. In Pro ball you are doing baseball all of the time. It’s 100% baseball and in college you’re worrying about other things like going to class and showing up. The part that is similar is the relationship you share with your teammates and coaches.
Who has been the one (maybe two) player you have patterned your game after? Or who is the player you try to emulate most? The player that comes to mind for me is Josh Hamilton. I loved his swing, his stance, really everything he did. I also read his book so that made me an even bigger fan of him because I know what he has overcome.
Who has played the biggest role in your development as a ballplayer, leading to an award-winning collegiate career, and now a successful start to a professional baseball career? The thing is, there isn’t just one role model, there are quite a few. The first is my dad, a man who taught me about the game and introduced me to the greatest game on earth. The second is my mom, a woman who taught me to never give up and was always there to pick me up when I needed it the most. The third is my brother who taught me everything I know. He is someone who I always looked up to and I wanted be just like him because he was such a tremendous athlete and was so good on the baseball field. I look up to both my high school coaches who made a big impact on me. My college coaches are also in this category because of everything they helped me with in my career. Probably the biggest role in my development as a player is Bobby Tewksbary and Austin Wasserman. Those two have never let me plateau as an athlete, neither has anyone else I have mentioned in this answer. Austin and Bobby changed my life that first summer.
Riley Palmer finished his career at Southern New Hampshire University, an NCAA Division II Baseball powerhouse, in the top 20 All-Time of numerous offensive categories at SNHU despite playing only three seasons at the school.
What has the off-season looked like for you? Training? Workouts? Goals? etc. What are your plans for Spring Training? Where will you be? When do you report? At the beginning of this off-season it was a lot of relaxation and time to myself. As a couple of months go by though, you start to get back in to the swing of things with lifting and hitting. For training, I go to AB Athletic Development located in Nashua, New Hampshire. I work out 5 days a week with a movement day somewhere in-between those 5 days. My goals this off-season are to become stronger and faster. From what I see and from what my trainers have seen, they will agree that, since I came in, I have become stronger, faster and become a better hitter, which is what I wanted out of this season. My plan for spring training is to go in there, stay healthy like I always do, tear it up, and show them how much of an asset I can be to the Orioles organization. I will be in Sarasota, Florida attending my first spring training as a minor league baseball player. I report March 10th but I am heading down on February 28th to get down there early and acclimate myself to the life style I love.
What is your realistic goal coming out of Spring Training this year? What would be your stretch goal coming out of Spring Training? My goal is to make a long-season team coming out of camp. I really think that I can make the Frederick Keys coming out of camp and I am really striving for that. I think that a stretch goal would be making the Double A team coming out of camp.
What have you noticed to be the biggest difference between playing ball at a nationally ranked D2 program and playing pro rookie ball? I would have to say the difference is that you see so many nice plays made in pro ball and in college you maybe see one or two a game. The competition changes a lot and its a much higher skill level. Pitching is so much better in that you have guys who throw 3 to 4 pitches for strikes consistently.
What would you say to youngsters in Goffstown Junior Baseball (or anywhere) who want to pursue baseball as a livelihood? To youngsters who want to get better and pursue it as a livelihood; Start making sacrifices because that’s what it takes. Start making baseball a life style and love it. Also, go to AB Athletic Development in Nashua, New Hampshire. Want to get better everyday. It’s a grind; understand that. You will fail but don’t let that stop you or make you quit. All of the greats have failed, never give up; That’s what has made them great and unbelievable players. Don’t ever give up. Guys you want to make baseball a life style? You do that.
What is your favorite baseball memory to date? It’s okay if you have more than one. My favorite baseball memory was my sophomore year in college, because it was my first time ever winning a Regional title. What makes it so important to me is that it was my first Regional win and my first World Series berth after so many times. Over my career, starting at a young age, I was so close to so many world series berths but always came up short. When we won the NCAA Regional title it was so amazing! I will never forget that night and waking up the next morning with the feeling of knowing you are going to your first College World Series. It is way better waking up knowing you won rather than knowing you lost. The next favorite moment on my list of 2, is winning the American Legion NH State Baseball Tournament when I was 18. That was such a special moment my last year, with a group of guys I will never forget. I will never forget any of the teams I was on because they were all so special.
What do you feel is the one thing, the most important thing, you need to do better in order to advance through the ranks of Minor League ball towards the Big Leagues? Improve everyday and get better everyday. I never want to plateau. I want to stay healthy which is another key to my success.
How would you say this past summer compared to the dreams you’ve held towards a professional baseball career? It’s the summer I have dreamed about ever since I was a little kid and made the decision I wanted to be a professional baseball player. It’s amazing because you dream about it your whole life and then the next thing you know you are living the life style you have always wanted. Every summer it was getting better and getting closer to my goal. This summer I’m living my dream but still getting better because I still have more to achieve.
Have you received any feedback from the Orioles as to what they thought of your progress this past season? If so, how did that match-up with the assessment you gave yourself? The information I have received back from the Orioles is very positive to me. In my mind I thought I had a great first year of pro ball and they noticed it. They have had very nice things to say about me and my first season. It definitely was a very big plus to hear what they had to say about me. It made the thoughts I had about myself much more of a bigger deal to me.
Riley Palmer played his rookie season of pro ball with the Aberdeen IronBirds. After being drafted in June, he joined a team made up of many players who had been rostered since Spring Training and had an outstanding campaign. He finished in the Top 5 on the team in nearly every offensive category. Aberdeen is the Short Season Single-A Affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, competing in the legendary New York-Penn League.
What is the hardest thing you face every day, week, month being a baseball player? I’m not sure because I love waking up everyday and going to the baseball field, day in and day out, no matter what. I enjoy what I do so I’m not really sure. I love this game so much.
What is your favorite baseball movie(s)? I’d have to say, Field of Dreams.
What fields, or venues, have been your favorite(s) to play on so far in your baseball career? In high school, or even Legion ball, it was Holman Stadium in Nashua, NH. In college I loved playing at our home field at SNHU. In Pro ball, it has been Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, MD, home to the Aberdeen IronBirds.
As it turned out, Riley and I sat and talked for two hours. We asked and answered many more questions; all of them regarding baseball. We talked about all kinds of things regarding ‘The Game’ we both love so much. More than once today, Riley told me he “was getting goose bumps just talking about it”. The ‘it’ he referred to was baseball, or Allard Park in Goffstown, or clips from Field of Dreams, or the feeling of winning the State Championship in American Legion Baseball back in 2010, or it was discussing “blackout” moments in hitting. There were a few times to say the least.
We sat and talked with nearly every other sentence leading to another subject found under the vast umbrella of ‘The Game’, that we each were excited to get to. Then, the clouds outside the windows where we sat seemed to part. The sun shone brightly and the blue skies revealed themselves. We discussed a reunion of sorts someday at Lion’s Field or Allard Park where the boys could once again, just be boys.
I asked him about the logistics of being a professional ball player and all of the when’s, the how’s, the how long’s, and the why’s. I asked about how many reps they get at throwing, fielding, taking throws, making throws, hitting, running for speed, base-running, and how often they are measured. Riley had the answers, and to his credit, he welcomes it, all of it. Baseball is now his job. Officially it’s his job, even in the adult world, he’s a professional baseball player. But really, look closely at his answer to what he would say to youngsters wanting to pursue the same dream, and you’ll realize that baseball has been Riley’s job for a long time. Until now, the majority of the adult world would have played along with this little game, this charade of “when I grow up, I want to be a baseball player”, just waiting for the reality of adulthood to bring this boy back to earth. Not Riley. Not his family. Not his closest friends and supporters. Because we all know him, and in him we see, what we have known, that baseball isn’t a job for him, it’s his true love. Just ask him about ‘The Game’ and before the sound of his voice reaches your ears, your eyes will have already seen how he feels about it.
One thing for certain when talking to Riley, today, and really anytime I have talked with him over the years I have known him; he is exuberant. He shared a story with me today from his first professional game that reminded me of a story involving a rookie in the NBA named “Magic” Johnson and the emotional toll the team game took on a young athlete. Time and leadership with help temper the emotional ebb and flow of winning, losing, performance, and constantly being measured. Then again, another word for temper would be weaken, and some things are just better left in full strength.
It happens all of the time; life tames youthful exuberance, leaving one to live out their days in a shell of their former selves. Days turn to weeks, weeks run on to months, then years, before decisions are made in an attempt to regain some of the life supposedly lost and mourned. So on it plays out; you know what I am talking about. To Riley; to my kids; to the like; don’t let another dim the light that shines from the sparkle in your eyes. Hold on to; no; better yet, cultivate youthful exuberance and carry it with you in everything you do. The world will teach you how to be an adult, a grown-up, as it were, but I suggest you get several opinions before following the masses, because nobody ever said the masses were right, for one, there’s just a lot of them and that doesn’t determine a verdict.
Riley will head south next week so that he can be ready to begin the Orioles Spring Training for Minor League ball players on March 10th. He will be in Sarasota, FL. He is optimistic and confident in the tireless work he has done to hone his skills, improve his game, and to be better equipped mentally. Last year at this time, he was heading to Myrtle Beach, SC to begin play in his senior season at SNHU. Just a year later, he has played another 130 games or so, spanning the SNHU season, the IronBirds season, and an, invite only, fall Instructional schedule. He has worked to improve his foot speed, his strength, his bat speed, his swing mechanics, and even his throwing mechanics. He eagerly awaits the next challenge. He looks for the next opportunity, and if he isn’t offered one, he just may create his own.