Every person has a story of “Where it All Began.” A unique (and, most of the time, untold) story of unlikely possibilities that has led to his or her unshakeable love in the game of baseball. If a person spends enough time on or around the diamond, he will discover that this game is filled with unexplainable, unapologetic heartache. However, what brings people back and keeps them around is the magical moments: the people, the players, the valuable life lessons, the unexpected turns, the rivalries, the lifelong friends, the traditions, the culture, the superstitions, the beers, the hotdogs, the 7th inning stretch, and the national anthem before 9+ innings of baseball. No matter the amount of heartache the game brings, a diehard baseball fan dutifully maintains a steady scream of love. This scream shouts as loud as the voice heard yelling “PEANUTS, BEER, CRACKER JACKS!” from the nose-bleed section at a major league stadium. Anyone who has spent enough time involved with the game understands this simple concept: “if you are good to the game and its people–the game and its people will be good to you.”
Not many in the game of baseball understand this concept quite like Sam Palace of the Detroit Tigers. His baseball career seems like a storybook: a daydreaming kid, growing up 30 miles north of Detroit and fantasizing about putting on a Tiger uniform. And over 20 years later, he’s doing exactly that.
Please join Thompson Mug Company - creator of the Dugout Mug™ - as we look at Where It All Began for Sam Palace, and the lessons learned along the way, to becoming the bullpen catcher for the Detroit Tigers.
Palace’s love for baseball began with riding bikes up to Clintonwood Park in Clarkston, Michigan along with his neighborhood friends. A young, chubby-cheeked Palace would spend hours with his buddies hitting and throwing baseballs in the summer months. His only indication to go home was the fleeting sun in the horizon, indicating that is was nearly dinnertime. Clintonwood Park provides more than just a foundational love for the game of baseball for Palace; it has also provided a handful of memories. When asked about the park, he responded:
“That’s where it all began. I hit my first homerun at that park.”
Some of Palace’s first memories of baseball as a kid were at Tiger Stadium with his dad. He sat in the stands and watched Cecil Fielder hit a ball not just over the fence but completely out of the stadium.
“The crowd went insane, and I remember feeling like, that is what I want to do!”
Whether it’s coincidence or not, a thought turned into an action, and an action formed a lifelong journey for Palace chasing after his baseball dreams. After progressing through little league, travel ball, and high school baseball (and even passing up an opportunity to play the quarterback position at college), he found himself at Kent State University recruited as a catcher. After his freshman season, he transferred to Grand Rapids Community College and eventually finish his college career with nine other seniors at Florida Institute of Technology.
After playing at three colleges, in three states, Palace signed an independent baseball contact with the Space Coast Surge. Shortly after joining the Surge, the newly founded league folded.
The next stop was in the United Independent League; he would join the Amarillo Dillas in Texas where he would play for peanuts. However, he was rewarded with a league championship and a chance to sign with the Washington Nationals after his independent season.
After signing with the Nationals, he spent the next three years bouncing between the Nat’s single A and triple A affiliates and, eventually, he was asked to join the Washington Nationals Big League club as their bullpen catcher.
After two seasons with the Washington Nationals, Palace took a job with the organization he envisioned himself playing for as kid, and “Where It All Began” – with the Detroit Tigers.
At times, life throws curveballs at a person to make them stop and admire their personal growth and progression over the years– and, more so, the amount of hard work, persistence, resilience, and sleepless nights that came along with pursuing a dream. However, when asked about his journey and the lessons learned, Palace remains humble and speaks about the influence of his teammates and other people in his life.
We asked what he has learned about chasing this wild dream, and he responded with:
“The game has really taught me to be ‘aware.’ To continue to be aware of my surroundings and aware of people’s feelings.”
For some spectators, fans, and players, Palace may only be perceived as another guy on a big-league field with shin-guards on his legs, the number 99 on his back, and the Detroit D on his hat. Yet, his life and attitude about baseball has taught him to look beyond the uniform and being a major-league baseball player.
“You never know what someone is going through. As much as baseball is a game, the people playing it are still humans. They make mistakes, they are imperfect and could be going through hard life obstacles.”
Through his imperfect, story-book journey, Palace leaves us with this thought-provoking statement:
“It’s important to have the ability to step back and not force things, while maintaining an optimistic outlook–and always smiling.”
We thank Sam Palace of the Detroit Tigers for providing us some words of wisdom. We also thank, Where It All Began Bat Company, in Cooperstown, New York (which is just outside the National Baseball Hall of Fame) for sponsoring this post and providing the inspiration to write it.
Just a reminder: “It’s not about what it is; it’s about what it can become.” –Dr. Seuss
Founder of Thompson Mug Company and the Dugout Mug™