Baseball: Essay contest sends Palermo on path to success

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead Tomcats second baseman Bryan Palermo graduated from Riverhead in 2010.

When Bryan Palermo began looking at colleges to play baseball while in high school at Riverhead, he originally narrowed his choices down to a few schools in Virginia and Maryland. That all changed with a random request from his high school baseball coach, who had him enter an essay contest.

Palermo obliged and wrote the essay about what baseball meant to him. He talked about his desire to compete and the lessons baseball had taught him. His essay won, earning Palermo an opportunity to attend a free baseball camp at Harvard University.

He played at the camp and it just so happened coaches from St. Lawrence University, a liberal arts college just south of the Canadian border upstate, were in attendance. The coaches liked what they saw in Palermo, beginning the recruitment process that quickly reached its conclusion when he made his first visit to St. Lawrence.

“I say it all the time, I couldn’t have made a better choice of where I go to school,” said Palermo, who is working toward becoming a physics teacher.

A 2010 Riverhead graduate, Palermo quickly blossomed on the baseball field at St. Lawrence. As a freshman he became the starting second baseman early in the season and finished the year with a .328 average to earn first-team all-Liberty League honors. He repeated those honors again last spring when he batted .362 as the leadoff hitter for St. Lawrence in his sophomore season. He led the league in runs scored, plate appearances, at-bats and was tied for third in hits as the team posted its best finish in program history.

Based on his superb play and with the recommendation of his college coach, Palermo got an opportunity this summer to play for the Riverhead Tomcats in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League. He’s the only Riverhead graduate to play for the Tomcats this season.

“It’s a lot of baseball and it’ll definitely help me improve for next year, so I’m excited about that,” Palermo said.

Palermo has started at second base for the Tomcats this season, playing almost every day in front of family and friends.

Palermo finds himself in a minority when it comes to playing in the Hamptons League. Whereas most players come to the East End from Division I schools, Palermo plays in Division III at St. Lawrence.

It’s been a bump in the level of competition for Palermo, who came into the summer not looking to put any extra pressure on himself.

“I think I knew I was capable of it,” Palermo said. “I’ve played against a bunch of these guys before. I just went out and played hard and that’s all I can do.”

Palermo’s held his own at the plate this summer, posting a .265 average in 28 games heading into action Tuesday.

He said it took some adjusting early on when he was facing better pitching than he’d become accustomed to at college.

“I think I’ve improved and done well with it, so I’m happy about that,” he said.

The biggest difference, Palermo said, is the velocity. With the Tomcats he routinely faces pitchers who can hit 90 miles per hour. In college, he rarely will go up against a pitcher who can reach that speed.

“Playing against this competition will definitely make me a better ballplayer,” Palermo said. “I know my college coach has been following me and he’s excited about how I’m playing.”

Palermo was in high school in 2009 when the Tomcats made their debut in the Hamptons Baseball League. He said it was a dream of his to play college baseball and get an opportunity to compete in the Hamptons League.

Last summer he played with the Center Moriches Battlecats in the FABL College Wood Bat Division. This summer the Battlecats joined the Hamptons Baseball League along with the Shelter Island Bucks.

In high school Palermo played all over the field, from shortstop to pitcher to catcher. He also wrestled during the winter. He was always primarily a middle infielder and by the start of his college career, he found a permanent home at second base.

As the regular season winds down this week for the Tomcats, Palermo said the goal is to lock up a spot in the playoffs, which begin Sunday. Once the season ends he’ll get some time off before heading back to college. The players get two weeks off at the start of the first semester before fall practices begin. After the fall season it’s onto weight-lifting and other training.

“Once second semester comes around, that’s when it really starts to focus on baseball,” he said.

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

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