By BRIAN JENNINGS
Some managers have a rough start during their first year with a new ball club. On the other hand, some put together a winning formula as soon as they arrive. Bristol Blues manager Ronnie Palmer is proving to be the latter thus far.
After the franchise’s first team manager, Barry Lyons, was let go midway through the team’s inaugural season in 2015, assistant coach, Pat Riley, stepped in to lead the Blues to the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) championship series. The Blues fell to the Worcester Bravehearts in three games, and Riley was let go after the team missed the postseason the following year.
None of the players from the 2016 season returned to this year’s team, and Ronnie Palmer was brought in to fill the vacant position. Palmer is also currently the director of athletics at Post University in Waterbury.
“Ronnie’s like one of those great southern style managers,” said Blues owner Elliot Scheiner. “He’s coached a lot of Division II ball teams in the south and has that great southern style dialect that instills confidence in a team. In the past 18 games, he’s come up big for us.”
Last year, former assistant general manager, Brendan Kudla, was looking to fulfill his master’s degree at Post. Kudla was aware of Palmer’s interest in the position and referred Scheiner to him.
“We went out for breakfast one morning,” said Scheiner. “Judging from his answers, I knew he was the right guy. I ran it by the other owners, and they agreed.”
Palmer’s interest to take over the Blues as the team’s manager came last season before the position even opened. He took his son to a regular season game and was taken back with the stadium, atmosphere of the fans, and game itself. When the opportunity presented itself, the decision was a no-brainer.
“Speaking with the ownership group that is made up of generally good people that are very passionate about the game of baseball was attractive,” said Palmer. “They just want to treat the kids the right way and put a quality product on the field. It just seemed like a good situation to step into and be a part of.”
Palmer has an extensive history in the sport and has been involved with college baseball for 15 years, 11 years as a head coach and four years as an assistant. Before coaching, he excelled at Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, WV as the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Association Player of the Year in 1998 for the Division II Senators. After his college playing days, he spent one year at Davis and Elkins as an assistant coach and amassed 156 wins during a seven-year tenure as the school’s head coach.
“As a high school and collegiate athlete, I knew I wanted to stay involved with sports,” said Palmer. “College athletics is something that I’m extremely passionate about and really enjoy. I feel really blessed that my profession is working in college athletics at this point as athletic director.”
Coaching stints at Bowie State in Maryland, West Hills Community College in California, and Salem Community College in New Jersey followed Palmer’s time at Davis and Elkins. Along with his coaching duties, he was also an athletic director at Elkins and Davis for five years and Salem for three years.
Health issues forced Palmer to step away from coaching baseball after his tenure at Davis and Elkins ended in 2014. This month marked four years that he was removed from a significant surgery as well.
Being to be able to put on a uniform and coach again was the icing on the cake for Palmer personally. But for the Blues organization, Palmer has a different goal in mind.
“I want the Blues organization and city of Bristol to be proud of the team we put on the field each and every day,” said Palmer. “It’s about how we play the game and go about our business.”
Another goal is to win and represent Bristol the way it deserves to be represented. But what Palmer found in his experience with the team is that there is much more to winning when it comes to the people that support the Blues at their home games.
“Bristol fans are very knowledgeable, respectful, and appreciative of the games of baseball,” said Palmer. “I hear them at games when they applaud for, not only our team, but the other teams as well.”
Aside from coaching during the spring, Palmer coached summer league baseball during the offseason too, but had been removed from summer league baseball for more than a decade before coming to the Blues. He coached in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League in 2003 and Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League in 2005.
However, Palmer’s experience in college athletics made for a smooth transition.
“Working with the Blues organization is just like being in an athletic department,” said Palmer. “I’m used to working with a lot of different individuals and personalities. It’s just a more relaxed environment.”
Having assistants like pitching coach, Jordie Scheiner, and former Blues player, Christian Budzik, has also helped Palmer with the smooth transition as well. Scheiner also played in the FCBL and had been with the team since the franchise started.
“They’ve been fantastic,” said Palmer. “Having two coaches that are familiar with the Blues organization and the FCBL made for a smooth transition for myself and all the new players on the roster. Those two have been the rock of the staff.”
When you get a lot of college players from different baseball backgrounds, they’re all taught to play the game a certain way at their schools. But from coaching in summer leagues prior to the Blues, Palmer has learned to help players with adjustments and work on their games for the summer so that they go back to school a better ball player, without stepping on any college coaches’ toes.
“We don’t want to take away from that, and hopefully, want to add to that,” said Palmer. “We’re suggesting adjustments that we think will help them throughout the course of the summer. And if it’s not comfortable for them, we’ll wipe the board clean and try something different.”
The Blues began the 2017 campaign with an 0-6 record, but have since climbed out of the cellar of the West Division to improve to .500 on the year with a 12-12 record as the midpoint of the season draws near. The team learned a lot about themselves through the 0-6 start, but a big turnaround was bound to happen with a group of players on the roster that understand of the coaching staff’s expectations and the game of baseball.
“When we talk to them about things, they work on those adjustments,” said Palmer. “To see them come to fruition during games is exciting. These guys wouldn’t be here if they weren’t invested in their own baseball futures.”
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