With a pair of Orioles farm clubs beginning their playoffs Wednesday, the first year of the organization’s future-focused rebuild is starting to produce some on-field results in the minor leagues.
At Double-A Bowie, amidst the promising young outfielders and highly drafted pitchers, are two first basemen who have helped the Baysox to their playoff perch wearing names on their backs that most Orioles fans recognize with fond memories.
Ryan Ripken and Preston Palmeiro, whose fathers Cal Ripken Jr. and Rafael Palmeiro played on the Orioles’ playoff teams together in the late 1990s, share the unique experience of playing in the shadow of that legacy, even if it’s not what defines them anymore.
“We don’t talk about it too, too much now,” Ripken said. “But we definitely have a lot of things that we share with growing up and expectations.”
Palmeiro, 24, said when they first played together in the fall instructional league in 2017, they stood in the outfield shagging balls and talked about their parallel paths and the expectations that come with it. Most of the time since has been spent trying to forge their own way.
Ripken, 26, was an Orioles draftee in 2012 out of Gilman, but opted to go to college. He was drafted by the Washington Nationals in 2014 and released in spring training ahead of the 2017 season. He quickly signed with the Orioles to a contract for Short-A Aberdeen, and is enjoying his best minor league season. Between High-A Frederick and Bowie, Ripken is batting .276 with a .720 OPS.
He credits that success with some swing work, plus some mental adjustments in finally being done worrying about living up to his last name.
“There were moments there where I saw that I could make changes,” Ripken said. “I believed that I could, and for this year, I actually put in all the work, and to see it come to fruition and have a good year is a lot of fun. … I think [it was] a lot of things mentally, trying to get myself on track, and trying not to listen to expectations and what people expected when they look at the last name.
"As much as I tried through the years, I always wanted to be Ryan. That’s all I want to be known for. But that was something, especially when I was younger, that maybe I let affect me too much. I just went back to basics and learned what I an do better, and then mechanics-wise, hitting, I found something that worked.”
Such adjustments, both on and off the field, are familiar to Palmeiro.
“I think when I was a little bit younger, in high school or so, I was able to get through that,” Palmeiro said. “I honestly think for him — I can’t imagine being Cal Ripken Jr.’s son, here playing for the Orioles. That’s probably a lot of pressure. But it kind of happens for everybody that I know that has a dad that’s a big leaguer. They have to create their own identity. It happens at different times for a lot of guys, but we all go through it.
"Everywhere I’ve ever gone, my whole life, it’s been Preston Palmeiro, Rafael Palmeiro’s son. At first, I was like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t want that.’ But you learn to just shrug it off and be like, ‘Whatever, but I’m me.’ ”
Palmeiro was a seventh-round pick out of North Carolina State in 2016, and he too reached Double-A for the first time this year. It’s been a rougher road for him. After batting .251 with 17 home runs and a .709 OPS at Frederick in 2018, he’s batting .237 with a .634 OPS for Bowie, though his two-hit night in Game 1 of the Western Division Championship Series keyed the Baysox’s 5-3 win Wednesday night. Tied 2-2 in the eighth, Palmeiro tripled to right field to put Bowie up 3-2 and scored the eventual winning run on a sacrifice fly.
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Their combined presence provides plenty of experience for the Baysox. But their presence at Double-A means they’re at a station in baseball where they’re close enough to feel as if they can join their fathers in having the majors on their resumes.
“They say in Double-A, you’re a phone call away,” Palmeiro said. “It’s the first time you play with guys that get that call. You have Hunter [Harvey], Dillon [Tate]. When you see it happen, it hits you.”
Ripken said no matter where his career ends, he wants to be remembered for himself.
“I want people to know me for me,” he said. “No matter how long I play, it’s still going to be overshadowed by what my dad did as a player. But at the end of the day, I just want to be known for what I do and how I go about my business, and prepare and focus and just show up to the ballpark and do the best that I can. Once I change that focus, and understanding, that’s all I ever wanted.
"I’m really proud of my dad and my family for what they’ve done. But it’s just a really great feeling to fill your own shoes and see what you can do.”
CORRECTION: A story package in the print editions of Thursday’s Baltimore Sun incorrectly identified Bowie Baysox first basemen Preston Palmeiro and Ryan Ripken as IronBirds in cutlines and a pull quote, and had incorrect dates and information in the cutlines attached to file photos of the two players from past seasons. The Sun regrets this error.