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  • Jerry Sullivan

Palmegiani's Following the Process

Photos Courtesy of Buffalo Bisons PR

Damiano Palmegiani jokes that he might one day break the record for representing the most countries in the World Baseball Classic.

“I have a lot of eligibility,” the Bisons infielder said before Thursday’s game at Sahlen Field. “And I’m proud of all my roots.”Palmegiani’s paternal grandfather was born in Italy. His paternal grandmother was from Spain. His father and mother are both natives of the great baseball nation of Venezuela, where he was born in 2000. But there was little question which country Palmegiani would play for in the Classic a year ago:


After all, he has spent most of his life in Canada. When Palmegiani was 4 years old, his parents, Damiano and Liliana, moved their family (their daughter, Maria, was 5 at the time) from Venezuela to Surrey, British Columbia, a city just to the southeast of Vancouver.

Damiano was a chemical engineer and Liliana a civil engineer. They had a comfortable life in their home country. But Venezuela was on the cusp of an economic and political crisis under autocratic president Hugo Chavez, one that would see 7.7 million people leave the country between 2015 and today.

“My wife and I had good jobs,” Damiano Sr. said by phone from Canada. “But it’s a time that you think, ‘OK, I have these two kids, one 4 and one 5 years old. I said, ‘OK, let’s give them opportunities to see, to know.’”

They considered Europe, where they had passports. But they found good jobs in their fields in British Columbia. What the elder Palmegiani also found was a place where he and his son could enjoy his lifelong passion for baseball and nurture a love for Canada’s national team — the Toronto Blue Jays.

His dad was a baseball lover as a boy. Damiano Sr. remembers seeing Pete Rose play for Caracas in the Venezuelan winter league. He’s proud that so many Venezuelans made it big: Luis Aparacio, Miguel Cabrera, Andres Galarraga, Johan Santana, Francisco Rodriguez, Ronald Acuna, to name but a few.

They made the trip to Toronto on occasion to see the Blue Jays. He took Damiano to see Omar Vizquel late in his career. They went early to get his autograph. “This is a good Venezuelan player,” he told his son.

“I watched hockey, but I played baseball,” Palmegiani said, “so I identified a lot more with the Blue Jays. Yeah, those were the days. My dad would get home from work at like, 4:30 on Western time, and we’d watch the Jays play on TV.

“This was back in the days of Roy Halladay, Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion. And Aaron Sanchez, who is with us now.”Palmegiani, 24, was a natural ballplayer as a kid, with quick hands and power and a searching intellect for the game. In his sophomore year of high school, he was given a spot at the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball in Vauxhall, Alberta, which was a drive of some 13 hours from Surrey.

It was tough being so far from home at 15. But Damiano thrived at Vauxhall, where he spent some of his fondest years. He starred for three seasons and was drafted in the 35th round of the draft in 2018 — by his beloved Blue Jays.

Palmegiani was thrilled and tempted. But to use his father’s expression, he was a “mindset kid,” who had a mature understanding of where he stood as a baseball prospect and how much he still needed to learn. He wasn’t ready.

So he opted to go to college at Cal State-Northridge. Palmegiani struggled as a college player. It was tougher than he’d even imagined. At least he met his girlfriend, Kira, who is with him still. He batted .157 as a freshman. The 2020 season was canceled due to Covid-19. He transferred to Southern Nevada, the junior college where Bryce Harper had played.

At Southern Nevada, they used wood bats, which he had used exclusively in Canada. In 2021, Palmegiani led all JC hitters with 26 home runs and batted .389. Baseball was fun again, and it got better when he was taken in the 14th round of the MLB draft: Again, by the Jays. It was like a dream

“It is,” he said. “The first time was a blessing and it wasn’t the situation where I knew I would come in and be successful, where I was mentally and physically at the time. The second time, it could have been any team, but it was them and that was pretty special. I owe them everything.”

Palmegiani began in the Florida Complex League, hitting .333 with a .458 on-base and .539 slugging. He split 2022 between Dunedin and Vancouver, combining for 24 homers, 83 RBIs and a .342 on-base average.

The promotion to Vancouver, the Blue Jays’ High-A team in the Northwest League, was another blessing, allowing Palmegiani to play about 30 minutes from his home in Surrey. He calls it the best baseball experience of his life.

“At the time, I didn’t know they were a Blue Jays affiliate,” he said. “But they were a special team. Again, to play for them was a dream come true.”

He was moved up to Double-A in 2023, where he had 19 homers and a .249/.351/.463 slash line for New Hampshire. That’s been roughly his pro profile — a middling average hitter with a high-on base and good power.

Palmegiani got to Triple-A with Buffalo in September of last year and had a rousing month. He reached base in his first 18 games with the Bisons and had eight doubles, four homers and a .284/.427/.554 slash line in just 20 games.

He also tore it up in the Arizona Fall League with a .941 on-base plus slugging in 22 games. There was talk that he might win a job with the parent Jays in camp. But his chances to win a corner infield job were diminished when Toronto signed Justin Turner and Dan Vogelbach.

So it was back to Buffalo, where Palmegiani continues to work on his craft in the minor leagues. Like Spencer Horwitz, who is again among the league leaders in hitting and on-base, he has to be patient and wait his turn — while the Blue Jays muddle along with the next-to-worst offense in the AL.

“Spencer is a mentor to me,” he said. “We’re not very similar hitters in style, but there’s so much I have that I can learn from him. We joke that if we put the two together, we’d be a pretty crazy hitter. We learn from each other and I’m truly lucky that he’s the way he is.

“I just keep doing what I do to the best of my abilities,” Palmegiani said. “I don’t have to go out and be something I’m not to impact the team. Just do what I do well. If there comes a time where they’re going to need something I can provide, they’ll let me know.”

As of Thursday, Palmegiani was hitting .242 with a .341 on-base and .433 slugging. Similar to his numbers at Double-A last season but a step back from the promising Triple-A debut he enjoyed last September with the Bisons.

“He definitely is a guy who can drive the ball, do damage, and hopefully do it consistently,” said Bisons hitting coach Ryan Long. “He’s got some things to improve on. Obviously, we want him to be able to tap into the power more.

“He’s willing to grow,” Long said. “He has his own thoughts, which is good. He has to continue to shape those thoughts into being stubborn in a good way, and he’s on his way to doing that.  He’s still a relatively young hitter in terms of his overall minor-league at-bats. But he’s going to continue to grow and get better.”

Palmegiani knows he needs to be more consistent. He’s in no hurry. He said he loves his teammates, loves being in Buffalo. There’s no point in moping

“No, no,” he said. “I think the most important thing is you’ve got to be where your presence is, where your feet are at. This is something Spencer and I talk about. I talk about this to a lot of people. It’s like, you spend so much time looking ahead, what could happen, how can I get there, blah blah blah.’

“That’s where the beauty is, in the process, the journey. I’m happy where I’m at.”

His father feels the same way about his “mindset kid.” Damiano Sr. watches his boy play Triple-A games on-line and looks forward to the day he can him play in person. Seattle, a team he follows closely, isn’t far.

“It is a process,” the elder Palmegiani said. “I know how hard it is, and he knows it, too. It is a process.”

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