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February 12, 2009

Palmer makes second Baseball Night in Blacksburg a success

By: Matt Kovatch

Jim Palmer

Some might say that Hall of Famer Jim Palmer was born to pitch. But after seeing him in action on Saturday night at Lane Stadium, it’s clear that he was also born to tell a story.

The former Baltimore Orioles legend and three-time Cy Young Award winner visited the Virginia Tech campus as the keynote speaker of the second annual Baseball Night in Blacksburg, an event that served both as a way to raise money for the Virginia Tech baseball program and as a way to kick off the Hokies’ upcoming season.

Palmer spoke to a crowd of more than 200 people in the west side stadium club of Lane Stadium for nearly an hour, sharing tales from his years as an all-star pitcher and as a television broadcaster.

After flying up from his home in West Palm Beach, Fla., earlier in the morning, Palmer surprised the Hokie players by meeting privately with them for 30 minutes in their locker room upon his arrival. He then held a half-hour session with some local media before mingling with the fans, posing for photos and signing autographs.

But the highlight of the night was when he got up on stage to speak to the crowd. Now a veteran broadcaster of 16 years, Palmer obviously possesses stellar public speaking skills. But it’s in a casual setting like Baseball Night in Blacksburg where he seems the most comfortable, simply talking about the game that he knows and that his admiring fans want to know about.

He told stories about signing with the Orioles as a teenager, his magical career with Baltimore that included three World Series championships, what it was like to deal with fame (and those infamous Jockey underwear ads), how he got into broadcasting after his playing days were over, working with (and doing fine impressions of) announcing legends like Howard Cosell and Harry Caray, and what it was like when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Palmer displayed his razor-sharp memory and well-timed sense of humor as he rattled off statistics and anecdotes as if they had just happened yesterday, and his personable nature made the event an enjoyable and memorable one for all in attendance.

The evening also included a dinner that was fully catered by Blacksburg’s newest and hottest restaurant, Bull and Bones Brewhaus and Grill, as well as silent and live auctions of signed sports memorabilia and an autograph session with the Hokie baseball team. A total figure of money raised on the night was not announced, but head coach Pete Hughes thanked everyone for each and every dime that was contributed to the Tech program, especially in the tough, economic times.

It was the second event in as many years for the Tech baseball program, as Orioles legend Cal Ripken, Jr., was the featured speaker at the inaugural 2008 banquet.