- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 13, 2005

BALTIMORE — Rafael Palmeiro might have returned to Camden Yards, but his familiar sidekicks are nowhere to be seen.

Senor Steroid’s two sons, 15-year-old Patrick and 10-year-old Preston, often are around the clubhouse in Baltimore, dressed in Orioles uniforms, playing catch and enjoying the kind of life that other kids only dream about — having a major league baseball star for a father and getting to hang out in a major league clubhouse.

But they have not been seen since Palmeiro returned Thursday from his 10-day suspension for testing positive for steroids — which is a good thing. They will suffer enough at the hands of other kids, who can be even crueler than sportswriters.

His sons were prominent in Palmeiro’s celebration of his 3,000th hit last month, with Preston even filming video for Comcast. Preston’s youth baseball team had been scheduled to play in a tournament, but Palmeiro asked him to stay and share the moment with him.

There should be nothing wrong with a father wanting his sons to share such a moment. After all, fathers want their sons to be proud of them.

“For them to be a part of that and be out there with me, I’ll never forget it, and I hope they don’t either,” Palmeiro told reporters after reaching the milestone.

They won’t. All this will live with them for quite some time, maybe all their lives. Palmeiro only can hope it doesn’t shape their futures, because he is familiar with how a father’s hopes for his son can turn into despair.

In searching for why Palmeiro, who again was not in the starting lineup for last night’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays (maybe the organization is saving his return to the field for tonight’s “Latino Night” celebration) would put so much at risk by taking steroids — particularly after making such a show of innocence before Congress — a good place to start is his father, Jose Palmeiro.

To say Jose was a hard-driving father is putting it mildly. A former amateur baseball player from Cuba, Jose pushed his son relentlessly to be a great player but did so with an iron fist, not kid gloves. And so it became a case of a son spending a lifetime trying to please a father who could never be pleased.

In a 1991 interview with the Miami Herald, Joe DiFalco, Rafael’s baseball coach at Jackson High School in Miami, told a story about the father and the son. Once Rafael hit a shot off the fence in right-center field — 390 feet away — when Jose came out of the stands and yelled at his son in Spanish that if he really were strong, he would have hit the ball over the fence. Then Jose, showing his disgust, left the field, DiFalco said.

That was high school. After enjoying an illustrious career at Mississippi State and becoming a major league player with the Chicago Cubs, Palmeiro didn’t find it getting better.

In 1988, after going 3-for-4 and raising his average above .340, he got a call from Jose, who berated Rafael for getting cheap and weak hits. It would get so bad sometimes that Rafael’s wife, Lynne, would screen his calls to keep Jose from talking to him.

Ten years ago, in a story I wrote for Father’s Day, Rafael absolved his father of the pressure put on him by Jose, who lives in Miami.

“There were times when I didn’t want to deal with him and couldn’t take any more,” Rafael said. “But that was his way of trying to push me over the top, and I look back on it now and I realize it, so I have no complaints about the way he treated me and the way he approached baseball with me.”

Then Palmeiro said he would not do the same thing to his sons.

“I don’t want to put them through what I went through,” he said. “It was hard for me, I have to say. There were times when I didn’t want to play ball. And I don’t want to have that happen to my sons.”

That didn’t happen. Something else did, though, and now three generations are connected by a dysfunctional love for the game.

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