The shaggy-haired teen lines a pitch into the outfield, and the ping from his aluminum bat echoes throughout an empty Camden Yards.

The slightly graying, 40-year-old man on the pitcher's mound offers encouragement and throws again, prompting another unnatural baseball sound from 15-year-old Patrick Palmeiro's bat.

Recently, it has been that older man, Rafael Palmeiro, whose bat has been making the noise. He's the one who joined an elite baseball fraternity Friday night at Seattle's Safeco Field with a double in the fifth inning with one out against the Mariners to record his 3,000th career hit.

Palmeiro is best suited in a batter's box, exhibiting the butter-smooth lefthanded swing that has helped him become the fourth player in Major League history to collect 3,000 hits and more than 500 homers, joining Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray.

Yet standing on a mound tossing batting practice to his two sons is where he truly belongs, where he is most comfortable, where he will be for years to come. Out of the public eye with a baseball in his hand. Teaching the sport to his children. Admonishing them for bad habits. Pushing them toward excellence.

And, with each instruction, paying homage to his own father, the no-nonsense Cuban refugee who made the Orioles first baseman what he is today.

To understand Palmeiro, to comprehend where this road to baseball immortality began, it's best to know what happened when he was 6.

Unfortunately, he can't guide you step by step through those days; they were too long ago. The person who can is off-limits.

It's one of the few requests the soft-spoken Palmeiro makes of the media: Don't bother his father, Jose, 76, who lives in an upscale home in Miami that his famous son purchased for him. There have been past interviews, and Palmeiro wasn't happy with the results. Besides, Palmeiro knows what his dad will say: "He'll be like, 'That is his deal. He's the one doing it. I don't want any part of ' " the glory.

So, the ballplayer's interpretation will have to do.

Jose Palmeiro, an ice-creamstand owner in Cuba, disagreed with the communist policies of Fidel Castro. In 1971, with government permission, Jose Palmeiro took his wife and three of his sons, ages 7, 6 and 3, and left Havana for Florida.

That one act defined a family. And made an indelible impression on a boy.

"It takes a lot of courage, I think, to leave your country," Palmeiro said. "To leave everything you worked for, all your money, all your possessions, all your clothes, everything behind. And going to a foreign country with three little kids, without a job, without money, without knowing anyone. I think that takes a lot of courage."

The Palmeiro family settled in Miami and the father took a construction job, working hours upon back-breaking hours for survival.

The boys had little -- except a mother who smothered them with love, a baseball diamond within walking distance and a dad who burned to teach America's pastime.

"He'd come home at 4:30 every afternoon from being out in the sun working in construction, and he'd come in, drink a glass of water, eat a sandwich and we'd go to the ballpark," Palmeiro said. "That takes a lot of dedication and love for your kids."

This is how Palmeiro's story grew, from roots of poverty and struggle into hope.

Watching the Orioles

As a kid, Palmeiro and his brothers would watch Murray, Ken Singleton and other Orioles take batting practice before spring training games at Miami Stadium. They'd wait for home run balls to leave the park, then they'd chase them down and use the balls for their own games.

"A lot of the other kids would get balls and sell them for 50 cents or a dollar when the fans were coming into the games," Palmeiro said. "But I never sold a baseball. I never took one either; the only ones I took were the ones that came over the fence."

That's Palmeiro's story anyway.

"He was one of those kids who used to jump over the fence and steal a baseball and throw it to his brother and jump back over the fence," Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks said with a laugh. "I told him he should be the world's greatest hitter for as many baseballs as he stole."

Even when he wasn't playing, Palmeiro was working toward baseball goals. He developed his quick wrists by squeezing tennis balls while watching television. And all of the Palmeiro boys swung bats daily to keep sharp.

This wasn't just pressure from the family patriarch. This is what was inside Palmeiro, said his wife of nearly 20 years, Lynne.

"I think some of it comes from what his dad instilled in him, but I also think that is just his personality makeup," Lynne Palmeiro said. "Even though Rafael's dad pushed him and expected and demanded a lot, I think with Rafael, that's also his nature. He expects a lot of himself."

On to college

Ron Polk influenced Palmeiro's career. But the legendary Mississippi State baseball coach acknowledged that he had little to do with the sweet Palmeiro swing.

"His dad and mom are great people, and his dad is the reason for that great swing," Polk said. "He'd work him night and day. His dad was tough on him. He could be a bear."

Polk said he wasn't sure he was going to land the Miami schoolboy star in 1982. He had the feeling Palmeiro wanted to get out of Miami. But he also sensed the shy kid was scared to be too far from home.

The University of Miami, however, wanted Palmeiro to sit out a season and use the year of eligibility later, whereas Polk gave Palmeiro the chance to start in left field as a freshman. And when Palmeiro took his recruiting trip to Starkville, Miss., he watched the Bulldogs play their rival, Mississippi.

"I was like, 'I want to be a part of this. I don't want to miss out on this,' " Palmeiro said. "It is an event. It is almost like a football weekend."

Palmeiro spent three years at Mississippi State, earning All- America honors each season before being drafted as a junior in the first round by the Chicago Cubs.

College was where he met his wife, a native Mississippian. It's where he started dealing with the media and the public's elevated expectations. It's where his pro baseball aspirations leapt toward reality.

Originally, though, Palmeiro had a backup plan. He loved drawing and was fascinated by architecture. He considered becoming an architect before an initial meeting with the college's architecture department head. He was told he'd have to give up baseball in the summers to concentrate on internships.

"We walked out of there, and I said, 'I guess you're not going to be an architect, Raf,' " Polk said.

Instead, Palmeiro became an art major -- and one of the school's best players ever.

In the shadows

Palmeiro excelled at Mississippi State, yet by the end of his junior year he had been edged out of the spotlight by his teammate- turned-rival Will Clark.

Before they battled for free agent funds in the majors, they were called Thunder and Lightning. Thunder struck first in the pros. Clark, picked second overall in the 1985 amateur draft by the San Francisco Giants, made his debut the next April, and Palmeiro was selected 22nd overall in the same draft and debuted in September 1986.

Once Palmeiro was in the majors, he remained in the shadow of teammates: Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg in Chicago; Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Alex Rodriguez in Texas; and Cal Ripken and Miguel Tejada in Baltimore.

Critics of Palmeiro point out that he didn't dominate for a significant period (one top-five finish in Most Valuable Player voting); he made four All-Star teams and never was voted in as a starter by the fans, often losing out to Mark McGwire, Frank Thomas or Mo Vaughn.

Palmeiro never won a batting title (top three twice) or a home run crown (top three three times). He has never played in a World Series. He isn't a rah-rah player. And his profile isn't particularly high.

"I don't think too many people would recognize him as Raffy Palmeiro," Hendricks said. "In fact, he's probably better known for his Viagra commercial than he is as a player, and that's pitiful. It's pitiful for as much as he has done and he has achieved."

Yet those who've played with and against Palmeiro say he has made an undeniable mark on the game. Former Orioles teammate Mike Mussina said the lack of limelight doesn't lessen his "tremendous career." Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio calls him a "firstballot Hall of Famer, no doubt." And the New York Yankees' Jason Giambi said a generation of first basemen have patterned themselves after Palmeiro offensively and defensively.

"To me, that means more than any All-Star Game or any publicity along the way I may have gotten," Palmeiro said. "To me, when an opponent says, 'He's the player I kind of patterned myself after,' that is the ultimate compliment, above anything else."

Climbing the lists

"Reggie Jackson. Dude, you just tied Reggie Jackson!"

Palmeiro is pitching batting practice to son Patrick in late June when Jeff Brantley, an ESPN analyst and Palmeiro's former Mississippi State teammate, rushes over and gushes.

One by one, Palmeiro is catching legends on all-time lists, including Jackson, who was sitting alone in ninth place, with 563 home runs, before Palmeiro tied and passed him.

"I know, man," Palmeiro says sheepishly.

The embarrassment isn't staged. Palmeiro, inherently reserved, may be as surprised as anyone that he is now the fourth member of the historic 3,000-hit, 500-homer club.

"I never imagined that I could be in a category with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and Eddie Murray," Palmeiro said. "Who would ever think that? Not me. But here I am knocking at the door."

Palmeiro has come a long way, Brantley said, since he was a sensitive freshman being ribbed for wearing "some kind of polyester leisure suit" on campus. But his attitude toward baseball hasn't changed in two decades.

"He's a guy that's grown up always having the idea that he has to prove himself," Brantley said. "I think that came from his dad's influence on him when he was younger."

Almost done

The end is nearing after 20 seasons.

"This could be my last year. It's been a long career," Palmeiro said. "I've got other things I have planned out for myself beyond baseball."

His family wants to take a non-baseball vacation, maybe to Italy to see amazing architecture and eat good food. He wants a more normal life.

But Brantley told Palmeiro that he owes it to himself, his family and the game to try for 600 homers. And Lynne Palmeiro said she'd discuss retirement more in-depth with her husband this offseason.

Palmeiro would like to play in a World Series, but individually his goals are met. No more proof is needed. Not to the media and not to his proud father.

Baseball, and life, have come full circle.

Patrick and Preston, 10, play organized baseball in suburban Dallas, where the Palmeiros make their offseason, in-school home. In the summers, the family joins Palmeiro in Baltimore and is a frequent presence at Camden Yards.

The boys watch their father closely. They are learning how to execute a perfect swing. They know that squeezing tennis balls will strengthen their wrists.

And, just like their father before them, they believe there is only one person who can teach them the sport properly -- as lovingly but maybe not as sternly -- as it was done 30 years ago in Miami.

"No matter how good their coach is," Lynne Palmeiro said, "of course, it is not as good as Dad."