Birthday Cakes

Jim Palmer is 65 today.

How is this happening?

If he's 65, that means we're all growing older, and that's not possible. I didn't sign any papers allowing it. I'll hire a Dream Team of lawyers and fight it in court. They can't do this to us.

I'll always feel a certain connection to "Cakes" because he pitched in the first game I ever attended with my father at Memorial Stadium. Home games were rarely televised, so seeing the Orioles in their crisp white uniforms made my eyes bulge out.

I thought I knew the color green, but you don't really appreciate it until you see a major league field for the first time.

Palmer won that day. He always seemed to win. He had that perfect delivery that couldn't be duplicated unless you didn't mind tumbling backward or wrenching your back.

For reasons I'll never know, I clipped an old box score out of the News American and kept it for years in the bottom of my closet in the Severn home where I grew up. I'd find it once in a while - a small miracle if you saw the bottom of my closet - and study the names.

If my memory hasn't slipped, Palmer tossed a two-hit shutout. No walks. Nothing out of the ordinary for him, but I held onto the box score anyway.

Being at The Sun and MASN for so many years, I've had numerous opportunities to talk to Palmer at Camden Yards, to the point where I pretty much take it for granted. You exchange hellos, sometimes make a little small-talk, and go about your day.

Earlier this season, before the Orioles took the field for batting practice, I stood next to Palmer and watched a few minutes of another game on one of the clubhouse televisions. He began analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of one of the pitchers, as he so often does on the MASN broadcasts, and it dawned on me: I'm talking pitching with Jim Palmer.

Yeah, idiot, appreciate the moment.

A Hall of Famer who stood on the mound for your first game - the perfect day with my Dad that I'll cherish forever - is talking to you about pitching. Don't just nod your head and glance at the clock. Soak it in and recognize how you - the local boy with the box score from the News American whose mood hinged on whether the Orioles won or lost - are blessed to have this opportunity.

I could cover baseball until I'm ready to take the great dirt nap, and Palmer's stats will always blow me away. Check out his numbers here on baseball-reference.com.

We make a big deal about pitchers reaching 200 innings. Palmer eclipsed 300 innings in four seasons, including three in a row, and logged 296 1/3 and 296 in two other campaigns. He posted a 2.07 ERA in 36 games in 1972 and a 2.09 ERA in 39 games in '75. His ERA fell under 3.00 in 10 different seasons.

Palmer ended his career with a 2.86 ERA, and it would have been lower except for the 4.23 and 9.17 ERAs over his final two seasons. That's mind-bending.

I know that times have changed. The game has changed. We're all changing if Jim Palmer can turn 65.

Happy Birthday Jim.

I wish I still had that box score. Fortunately, I'll always have the memories - of you on the mound and that perfect day with my father.



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