If the Akron RubberDucks plan on capturing another minor league championship in 2017, and there's no reason why they shouldn't, perhaps it might help to continue what they've already started this year.
Our local Double A Eastern League baseball team won it all last week. Some said they were giving their parent team, the Cleveland Indians, a lesson on how it's done. On the other hand, maybe they just wanted to repeat their feat of 2012 when they took all the marbles.
Tied with the Altoona Curve for the league's top spot, they had one game left with the Bowie Baysox. That's when a young hurler from the lakes threw out the first ball of that final regulation game; the one that would determine the division winner. That young man, Michael Paljich (pronounced Pal-litch), a big right-hander from the heart of the Portage Lakes, set precedent, and the Ducks followed it right through the playoffs and to the Eastern League championship.
They won that deciding regulation game against the Baysox, 8 to 6, took three out four in the opening round of the playoffs from Altoona and then nearly wiped the Trenton Thunder off the face of the sports map in the Finals by sweeping them in three games.
And it all started with Paljich.
Well, actually it started with his dad, Mickey, who claimed to be quite a player himself when he was much younger and full of sap. After winning a raffle basket containing four RubberDucks tickets and the right to throw out the first ball, he passed on that right. Remembering what he had experienced three years earlier, he gifted that right on to his 15-year-old son, Michael.
"I just wanted to make sure I hit his glove," Michael commented, referring to the catcher when asked about his experience. Indeed he did. The Manchester High school sophomore planted his foot against the rubber, reared back and with a magnificent windup, let loose a blazing fastball that landed smack dab in the middle of the catcher's mitt. Understand folks, I didn't see him throw the pitch. But from the reaction of the crowd, it must've hit at least 88 mph while splitting the strike zone.
Michael did much better than his Dad had done when he was given the same opportunity. Three years ago his dad threw out the first pitch of a Lake County Captains game. It hit the dirt before ever reaching the plate and then rolled to the backstop.
The eldest child of Jen and Mickey Paljich, Michael lives in New Franklin with his two other brothers, Mason, 12, and Matthew, 8, and one sister, Olivia, a twin to Mason. They also share living quarters with a four year old canine, Lucy, a mutt of undetermined origins.
The five-foot-ten sophomore also plays football for Manchester High School as a running back and basketball as a shooting guard. But it's obvious his first love is being on the diamond.
Michael, who has strong aspirations of making it to pro ball, of which his father only had fading dreams, hopes to play college ball and has his eyes set on Kent State. However, he does have one incident in common with his dad. On May 12, 2016, in Manchester's last game with Fairless, he pitched and then slammed his first home run, a three run shot to help win the game.
After the ball was retrieved, he asked his dad what he should write on it.
"I told him to go get my ball and copy that," Mickey said. "What he saw written on that ball was 'First Home Run. Hit May 12, 1972.' It was 44 years to the day Michael hit his first round tripper."
When asked what he took away from the RubberDucks game experience, the humble young man, whom any father would be proud to claim, said it was "a great experience throwing out the first pitch," and then added, "but mostly it was great fun spending the day with my family and friends."
This young man has his head screwed on straight. Don't be surprised if someday you see him start the seventh game of the World Series.