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Former major league catcher and long-time City of Rochester fireman Rey Palacios had what you might call a brief tenure with the town’s Triple-A baseball team.
Nearing the end of his career, Palacios signed with the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent in 1993 but hurt his shoulder in spring training and was eventually sent down to the Red Wings who were then affiliated with the Orioles.
When he was ready to play, the 30-year-old Palacios got into one game, made an out in his only plate appearance, and according to baseball-reference.com, that was the last official regular season at bat of his pro career.
Fast forward 29 years to the afternoon of April 16 when Palacios’ nephew, Josh - freshly signed by the Washington Nationals after being released by the Toronto Blue Jays - stepped into the batters’ box for his first plate appearance with the Wings at Frontier Field.
The Buffalo Bisons, the Blue Jays’ Triple-A team who Palacios had just played for less than a week earlier, jumped to a quick 4-0 lead in the top of the first and it was looking like it might be a long day for the Wings.
But then Palacios changed the course of the game in his first at bat as a Red Wing as he drilled the second pitch he saw from former teammate Nick Allgeyer over the right-center field fence for a three-run homer.
And in the small crowd of just under 3,000 on a 38-degree afternoon was uncle Rey, leading the cheers.
“It was awesome,” Rey said recently. “I just felt like he showed that he belongs where he belongs. He’s actually a big league player and he just showed his swing has power and he’s swinging the bat very well.”
Oh, but Josh wasn’t done. In what turned out to be one of the wildest games of the season to date, the Wings eventually took a 10-4 lead, then gave up five runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to necessitate extra innings.
Josh came up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th and walked it off for the Wings with his third hit of the day for an 11-10 victory.
“Yeah, I guess it was a lot better than his last game,” Josh said, smiling when asked to compare his Wings’ debut with his uncle’s. “Three hits, a home run and a walk off. It was amazing, especially against my old team. You get a little revenge and then I was able to pump up the guys, first swing I was able to hit a home run. I mean, couldn’t have scripted it any better, man. God is good.”
The addition of Palacios to the lineup has been one of the key reasons why the Wings’ are off to such a great start in 2022. In his first 11 games which extended to the end of April, Palacios hit .378 with 14 RBI for an OPS of 1.099.
He has cooled off a bit since then as he has struggled for much of May, but he’s still hitting a respectable .262 with a .755 OPS and has scored 16 runs and driven in 17, both fourth-most on the team.
The fact that Palacios now plays in the city where his uncle worked for 25 years including 21 at the Engine Five firehouse off Lyell Avenue is a cool story.
Rey spent his childhood in Brooklyn in the early 1970s playing baseball and chasing fire trucks. “Since I was eight years old, I chased fires on my bike all the time,” he said. “Especially my neighborhood in Brooklyn, it was burning all the time back in those days.”
He knew that if he didn’t play pro ball, he was going to fight fires. As it turned out, he got to do both.
He and his brother, James, Josh’s father, were signed to minor league deals by the Detroit Tigers. James didn’t make it, but Rey eventually made it to Triple-A with Toledo in 1987, then was traded to Kansas City and it was with the Royals in 1988 that he made his major league debut.
He wound up playing in 101 big-league games through 1990, finishing with a career average of .193 with three homers and 17 RBI. After the Royals released him, he missed significant time with injuries plus the players’ strike in 1994-95 while bouncing around from the Angels to the Orioles to the Marlins.
During this time, he also began to pursue his second career as a firefighter, taking and passing the test in Florida and getting on the job in 1992 and 1993.
When he finally hung up his cleats, he was too old to take the fireman’s test for Brooklyn, so he took a look at Rochester and when he saw how much action there was here, he knew this was the place he wanted to be.
“He told me after retiring from baseball he was able to join the firefighting department and I think he’s actually in Rochester because he was looking for more fires and this was one of the most active fire houses in the Northeast,” Josh said. “He loves what he does, he has a passion for what he does.”
It was an easy transition for Rey because during his brief time with the Red Wings, he had spent time with Rochester firemen and had made some connections.
Rey worked for Monroe County as a ground equipment operator for a spell and eventually joined the fire department in 1997.
“It was very rewarding because it was something that I always loved to do,” Rey said. “The excitement of the job, knowing that you’re gonna go do something you love doing and knowing that you’re going to help somebody you don’t even know. And then to top it off and go into a very busy firehouse, that was really an ultimate for me right there.”
His retirement actually becomes official this weekend, and while the 59-year-old remains busy, he’s always got time to go watch Josh play at Frontier Field, or watch Josh’s brother, Richie, who just made his major league debut with the Cleveland Guardians last month and is still with the club.
“He’s given me plenty of baseball advice,” Josh said. “He’ll call me after every single game; he’ll definitely call after any bad games that I have and he’ll let me know, ‘Hey, you gotta be looking for this, you gotta clean up the approach, major leaguers do this.’ He’s been a huge help, him and my dad have helped me tremendously.”
Rey was thrilled when Josh was let go by the Blue Jays because he knew there was nowhere for Josh to go in Toronto, not with a roster that includes George Springer, Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel, Bradley Zimmer and Raimel Tapia in the outfield.
Things are much less settled with the Wings’ parent team, the struggling Washington Nationals. If they continue to plummet in the standings and Josh gets back on track, he probably has an easier path to the big leagues than he would have had with Toronto.
“I’m a believer in the word of God and I know for a fact that this is a move of God,” Rey said of Josh being signed by the Nationals. “His father, my brother, is a pastor - and we were all praying individually and realizing that he needed to get out of Toronto. That’s no coincidence. We prayed for that and it happened and he couldn’t be picked up with a better team, knowing that his opportunities are gonna come because they need help in the major leagues, for sure.”
For now, Josh continues to get regular playing time for a Red Wings’ team that has soared to the top of the International League East and he’s loving his situation.
“I’m just blessed to be in this organization as a whole, blessed to have them have me,” Josh said. “I don’t really look for opportunity, I just try to handle my business day to day on the field and build my resume and then at some point when you’re doing well enough, they’ll give you the opportunity in the show.”
Which is exactly what Uncle Rey, a man who knows, has told him time and time again.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Josh Palacios has great Red Wings debut and his uncle Rey was there