PALMER — Matt Palmer never thought he would be playing at Hermon Brothers Stadium in a Mat-Su Miners jersey. The outfielder, whose surname matches his hometown, took a roundabout journey to put on the green and gold, and delivered once he did. As a seven-year-old, Palmer lost a couple of baby teeth playing catch outside of Miners’ games. In July, Palmer unleashed a righteous crack, sending a baseball over the left field fence. The new memory of his season as one of the boys of summer at Hermon Brothers Field helped ease the pain of his early memory at the field, with his family behind him the whole way.
“I was a five-year-old kid looking at these huge dudes playing for the Miners and you’re like, ‘I don’t know that I can do that; that’s pretty cool,’” Palmer said. “So when you actually do it. It was weird, but it was a really cool feeling going out there and then when you’re the local kid you get a little bit bigger cheers.”
Palmer is a product of the baseball factory around Hermon Brothers. He grew up loving baseball, playing with his older brother Taylor. He was an early standout in Palmer Little League games, even picking up to play for his brother’s team when he was five years younger than the rest of the players. That success continued on the ballfields around the Valley, as Palmer moved on from the Little League ranks to star at Colony High School, named a South Central Conference Player of the Year and as a stalwart at shortstop for the American Legion Post 35 Alaska Road Warriors. Palmer has had to earn his way at every stop his bat has taken him, and knows he has not done it alone.
“There’s so many people, one person having success isn’t just that one person having success,” Palmer said. “It’s a whole bunch of people that had influence.”
Palmer left Palmer High to play at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon for his first two years of college. Struggling to rise to the level of play and the demand of college athletics, Palmer leaned on his older brother, Taylor.
“My freshman year at Blue Mountain was pretty tough because you go from here, I was conference player of the year or whatever, and then you go to Blue Mountain and everybody is either just as good or better than you,” said Palmer. “Definitely my mom, definitely my brother. I mean it goes without saying my mom does everything, she’s the best. Taylor definitely too, supported me all the time especially at Blue Mountain where it was rough there for about a year. He was always behind me.”
Palmer entered Blue Mountain as an infielder in a new home with new teammates, but adapted quickly. Not used to fastballs over 80 miles an hour, Palmer added 30 pounds of muscle, and an all-important beard to his repertoire. Palmer would wake up for weight training at 8:00 a.m., go to class for six hours, practice for two, and continue his school work after practice.
“You’re already tired from class and weights and then you have to perform at practice or else you’re not going to be able to play in the game. It’s just a grind and you’re not used to that in high school,” said Palmer. “All those guys are just more developed, they’ve played more baseball, they have more experience than you, so you not only have to outwork them but you have to get your mind in the mindset like, OK, I’m going to fail for a really long time before I’m able to succeed because I’m not used to this.”
Palmer played with high school teammate Ben Ross at Blue Mountain and was able to develop relationships with other players on the team going into his sophomore year. In his sophomore year, Palmer suffered an injury that put him in a battle against his body and teammates for playing time. Palmer said that pressure helped him perform at a higher level, where he was ultimately picked up to play for the Waldorf Warriors in Iowa for his junior and senior seasons. Again traveling to a new home with new teammates and having to raise his level of play to a higher division, Palmer struggled.
“After my first semester at Waldorf I thought about leaving because it was just so tough, but my mom was like, ‘no, you’re not leaving, you’re going back,’” Palmer said. “I was like, ‘yes mom, I’m going back, but it’s real tough to go into a new environment like that especially because you have to prove yourself all over again.”
Palmer made a move from infield to outfield and got back to doing what he does best, crushing baseballs. Palmer impressed at Waldorf, and got used to a new routine. Palmer woke well before 6:00 a.m. weightlifting every day, changing his major to sports management and taking on a larger class load. Palmer went to three-hour practices after class and weights before working on projects in the evening, often getting fewer than five hours of sleep before waking up to do it all over again. The success Palmer had at Waldorf, added with a stroke of good luck and a former coach looking out for him thousands of miles away landed Palmer on the Mat-Su Miners roster this summer. With the departure of the head coach and a handful of players, Colony High baseball head coach Jordan Chadwell linked Palmer up with Miners General Manager Pete Christopher. The rest as they say, is history.
“You could tell back in Pete’s day, he was a dog, too,” said Palmer. “He’s got that mentality he’ll run through a wall for you. It’s cool to play for people like that because they have just as much passion for what we’re doing as we do so I wouldn’t rather have any other GM than Pete.”
Palmer enjoyed success in the early part of the season, starting games in the outfield and even flashing a flair for diving catches.
“He made some unbelievable plays in the outfield and he’s been a spot starter. He’s probably our fourth or fifth outfielder and he’s been a tremendous guy to have around the clubhouse — he knows his role,” said Miners head coach Tyler LeBrun. “He is going to go out and bust his butt to compete every day and try to stay in that lineup.”
Palmer’s favorite moment was made possible by his older brother, Taylor. Matt takes after Taylor in a number of ways, from their shy, quiet demeanor to the bluntness with which they critique their own play. As Taylor was in town for a few hours, he stopped by the Miners game to see his brother in action on the field that they had both called home in high school. Matt got a pitch he liked and didn’t miss, launching the ball over the fence to the roar of the home crowd. While the Palmer family is not known for their boisterousness, Taylor was sent into a screaming frenzy watching his little brother round the bases.
“To go yard in a game that he was there was pretty cool,” Matt said.
While his older brother Taylor and mother Debbie were his first and most influences as a ballplayer, countless others have helped Palmer get to a point where he could compete as a Mat-Su Miner. Palmer said that Wasilla Warriors and Post 35 head coach Ken Ottinger had a big influence on both he and fellow local product, Nolan Monaghan.
“They had a hell of a year this year getting first in the state and second in legion,” said Palmer. “Ott, he knows how to coach baseball and he knows how to get people to the next level and he tests you mentally, tests you physically and he’s a hell of a guy.”
Palmer finished his baseball playing career this summer as a member of the Mat-Su Miners, but does not believe he is finished with the game yet. Palmer already had his first opportunity as a coach, managing the Post 35 A team last summer. Palmer has one more semester to finish off his degree in sports management at Waldorf and plans to be the next Pete Christopher.
“I want to get into a front office role at some point. I want to be like player personnel picking out players, eventually I would like to be a GM of some sort of team whether that be baseball or basketball or football,” said Palmer.
Palmer thanked his coaches at Blue Mountain, Waldorf, and even coaches he never played an inning for, such as Jamie Mayo, who encouraged him to succeed from a young age. What Palmer will miss most about playing the game of baseball is not the towering home runs or diving plays he brought to Hermon Brothers this summer, but the baseball players that surrounded him on the field. Just as his relationships around the game of baseball helped him get his spot on the Miners, they are what he will miss the most.
“You get to be like a family pretty much. You see everybody every single day for a certain amount of time they’re going to become your family,” said Palmer. “That’s definitely is what I’m going to miss most about baseball is just building those relationships with all those different people.”