Baseball fans recognize relief pitchers as the guys tasked with putting out fires, but a catcher who retired two decades ago registered a huge save Monday. Rey Palacios, who played for the Kansas City Royals from 1988-90, delivered in the clutch in helping to rescue eight dogs from a fire.
And it turned out to be all in a day’s work for a guy whose career after baseball has been to save lives.
Rey Palacios’ career with the Kansas City Royals lasted 101 games
Palacios, born and raised in Brooklyn, attended Kingsborough Community College but went undrafted by Major League Baseball. He signed with the Detroit Tigers as a 19-year-old in 1982 and reached Triple-A ball with the Toledo Mud Hens in 1988.
The Tigers traded him to the Royals at the end of the minor-league season, and Kansas City brought Palacios up to the majors for a cup of coffee. That was the start of three seasons of bouncing between the American League team and its Triple-A affiliate in Omaha.
By the time his career had run its course with the Royals, where one of his teammates was Bo Jackson, Palacios appeared in 101 games, batting .193 and hitting three home runs with 17 RBIs.
He was out of baseball in 1991 but caught on in the California Angels’ farm system the following year. His 1993 season consisted of one at-bat with the Baltimore Orioles’ affiliate in Rochester, New York. The Orioles released him in mid-season.
Thirty years old and with no prospect of continuing in baseball, Palacios knew what he wanted to do next. Several members of his family worked as New York City firefighters, and Palacios had a background of his own thanks to training in the auxiliary fire department program; he wanted to fight fires, too.
The retired catcher stayed in Rochester to fight fires
The one at-bat in Rochester played a huge role in Palacios’ future. Because the New York Fire Department didn’t accept recruits over the age of 29, he decided to apply in the mid-sized city on the southern shore of Lake Ontario.
Passing the exam was easy, especially considering his auxiliary background. When he was 17 years old, Palacios saw smoke coming from a Brooklyn apartment and bystanders screaming about a trapped baby. According to the Rochester Business Journal, Palacios navigated through the smoke with the help of an air pack and found the baby. With the stairs blocked by the fire, he broke through a window and climbed onto a ledge until Brooklyn Ladder Company No. 101 reached the scene and helped him down.
“You could hit 10 grand slams in the World Series and it still wouldn’t compare” with saving a life, Palacios told the paper.
Palacios came to know members of that fire company over the years, and he counts members of that unit among the friends he lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks that brought down both towers of the World Trade Center.
Rey Palacios to the rescue
After passing the exam, Palacios had to wait more than two years for a spot to open in the Rochester Fire Department. He’ll be coming up shortly on 25 years as an active firefighter and is a semi-celebrity locally because of his baseball background and decision to plant roots in the community as a first-responder.
“Looking back, I realize how blessed I’ve been,’’ Palacios said in a 2020 interview.
Palacios made it into local news coverage on the morning of June 21, 2021, when dispatchers called his engine company to an apartment fire on Rochester’s west side, not far from the historic Susan B. Anthony Museum & House.
The fire crew quickly determined no one was home. However, they learned that five puppies and three older dogs might be trapped in the apartment.
Firefighters went in through a window and located the dogs. A local television station captured video of the process. Sure enough, there was Palacios in the middle of it all, taking the handoff of the puppies from one firefighter inside the apartment and dropping them to another on the ground who carried the dogs to safety.
Local news coverage reported that all the dogs were safe and that the Red Cross was assisting the families left homeless.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.