By CJ Pentland
Canadian Baseball Network
Damiano Palmegiani admits that it took him awhile to get into baseball.
A jittery kid, Palmegiani’s parents put him in as many sports as they could to get him out of their hair, but at first he found baseball boring. When playing T-Ball, it wouldn't be uncommon for his coach to come lift him down after he climbed the backstop.
Yet his dad, also named Damiano, kept working with his son. A former player in Venezuela, he would take his son to the garage and throw whiffle balls from up close – and after realizing that the young guy had pretty quick hands, he told him to “keep going at this baseball thing.”
As Palmegiani grew up he started to like the sport more and more, and after playing at higher levels he soon realized that baseball was the sport he wanted to stick with. Now, having fallen in love with the game, he’s making a name for himself across the country.
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Palmegiani and his family moved to Surrey, B.C. when he was five. He started playing ball in the Cloverdale Minor Baseball Association, and while in Pee Wee one of his coaches was Tim Blake, whose brother, Joe, coached at Vauxhall Academy in Alberta. Joe saw potential in Damiano, who was still in elementary school at the time, and after a strong grade 8 season, Blake and Vauxhall head coach Les McTavish came and watched a few tournaments the following year and liked what they say. McTavish offered him a spot on the team, and Palmegiani liked the idea of attending the academy, so come grade 10 he packed his bags and headed to southern Alberta.
From September to June, Palmegiani attends Vauxhall High School and billets in dorms in the town of 1,222. Throughout the school year he trains and plays for the Jets, who play Alberta club teams and often travel around Western Canada to take on some of the country’s best high school competition.
In the summer he comes back to play in BC, and in 2017 he joined the Abbotsford Cardinals of the BC Premier Baseball League for the last half of their season. Now heading into his third and final season playing for the Jets, Palmegiani has grown since his days as a rookie and has become a mentor to players who are going through what he experienced two years ago.
“It’s been a very positive experience,” said Palmegiani. “It’s funny now going into grade 12 because when I went in in grade 10 it was me and two other grade 10s in a room full of guys who were about to graduate, and now the skill level is a lot different. It’s weird because I remember the first day like it was yesterday: I was nervous, meeting new teammates and all that, and now and I’m in grade 12 and the tables have completely shifted – the younger guys are now looking at me for advice. It’s something that I’m really excited about, something that really positively affects me.”
“I think [leadership] is something Damiano needs to continue to grow and evolve with,” said McTavish, who has now coached him for two seasons. “He’s always been the young guy – the athletic young player – and we certainly as a program look to him to take some leadership role, and I think that’ll take him to the next level. He does have the qualities to do it, and I think that taking on some of those leadership roles will take his game to the next level as well.”
While at Vauxhall, Palmegiani has continued to attract the attention of other coaches. In the fall of 2016, he joined the Canadian Junior National Team, and this past August he was one of five Canadians who attended the Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., which features the best high school-aged players from across North America.
2017 was also the infielder’s second trip to Tournament 12 with the BC Orange team. Palmegiani has already committed to Cal State Northridge, a Division 1 school just outside of Los Angeles that plays in the Big West Conference, but the tournament provided another opportunity for him to raise his draft stock and garner more interest from pro scouts.
“[Last year] was a very, very positive experience,” he said prior this year's T12 tournament. “I played well, but beyond that I just realized that I’m playing in the Rogers Centre, so take it all in. There are scouts, but I don’t look into it too much because really you’re getting to play at the Rogers Centre with a provincial team, so I just tried to have as much fun with it as I could [and] play loose. Even in bad games I came out of it with a smile because you just don’t get that experience every day.
“I’m just excited to do it all over again. I know what to expect, I know who’s going to be watching, I know what kind of scouts are going be there, so I’m just going to go out there and play loose, exactly like I did last year. I hope this year I can kinda be a bit of a leader – if anyone has any questions, or if it’s their first T12, or if I see anyone who’s tense, I just want it to be a fun experience, and when you’re having fun you’re obviously playing a lot better.”
McTavish, who was also at T12 as a coach on the Alberta team, has noticed that the better the competition, the better Palmegiani plays. He describes him as a dynamic player with an infectious smile, and praises his athleticism and tremendous bat speed. A 6-foot-1, 180 pound right-handed hitter, he is now primarily a third baseman but has the ability to play all across the field – and defence is the part of the game where McTavish has seen the most development over the past two seasons.
“I like to be an all-around player,” said Palmegiani. “I like to affect the game on both sides, I want to be the guy who can either lead-off an inning with a double or hit a single that scores two runs. I like using my speed – I’m a pretty fast guy, [and] if I can read the pitcher I want to take bases; I want to affect the game as much as I can offensively. And then say if things aren’t working out for me that game, I try to take it onto the field and take away as many runs as I can, whether it’s at third, or the outfield, or anywhere.”
In his 12 years at Vauxhall, McTavish has yet to come across a player similar to Palmegiani.
“He’s a different player,” said the coach. “He’s athletic, he’s still a little bit crude in a good way – if that makes sense – he’s got bat speed. There are lots of things going on there that as he gets bigger and stronger, I think the sky is the limit. He is a strong kid, but as he puts on some more weight and grows into some man strength, who knows where he can end up. It’s been fun to follow his last two years, and I just hope he can continue to develop this year and get to where he needs to.”
Palmegiani cites McTavish as one of his biggest influences, mentioning how his coach’s focus on development and character has helped him grow as both a player and a person. The 17-year-old has also benefitted from the advice of Josh Burgmann – a pitcher for the University of Washington who was drafted in the 30th round by St. Louis, who also played at Vauxhall and with the Junior National Team – and Jordan Gray, a close friend who he spends lots of time with during summers and considers a role model.
While the future beyond Vauxhall remains bright, Palmegiani remains focused on his pivotal grade 12 season, with the T12 helping kick-start the campaign – and it’s something he’s most definitely prepared for.
“As soon as last year’s T12 ended I was looking forward to the next one. I wish it was longer.”