Davis Palermo took the mound at Hooker Field last Friday for the Martinsville Mustangs in the team’s home opener. It was the first time Palermo took the mound in a competitive atmosphere since he walked off the mound at Northwood High School in Pittsboro, North Carolina.
Palermo red-shirted his freshman season at North Carolina (UNC), and has taken full advantage of his opportunity to return to the mound so far this summer. After his relief appearance Friday, Palermo returned to the hill Monday as a starter. Through 5 1/3 innings this summer, Palermo has allowed just three hits, two walks, zero runs and has struck out 10 hitters.
“It’s definitely different, different competitiveness, different edge,” Palermo said. “It felt good. It’s a great feeling being able to compete.”
Although he was a redshirt freshman, Palermo was able to be in uniform and in the dugout during the season with the Tar Heels. He got to practice with the team and get his bullpen work in, but this summer was a great opportunity for Palermo to get back on the mound and get back into a rhythm as a pitcher.
“Really the main purpose was to come out here and actually get innings and get repetitions,” he said. “You get better by getting reps.”
North Carolina is currently in the Super Regional in the NCAA tournament, another strong season for one of the premier college baseball programs in the country. Players that get to that level of college baseball usually have years and years of high-level experience in showcases, or travel baseball teams, but Palermo was more of a late bloomer.
“I just played casually. I didn’t do anything like showcases that much until I got to high school, probably around my sophomore year when I started growing a little bit and getting a little bit better is when I realized,’ hey this is something I can do… and something I like doing,’” he said.
Pittsboro is only about two hours south of Martinsville, so Palermo isn’t nearly as far away from home as some of his teammates. He also made the trip with fellow Tar Heel redshirt freshman Austin Elliot.
“It makes it easier, I guess, being able to get acclimated to the area,” Palermo said. “It’s nice having someone to talk to that you know, but a few weeks in I’m going to know all these guys and it’s going to be like another home.”
It’s only been a couple of weeks since the team formed, but Palermo said that bonding has already begun.
“Already we’re pretty close,” he said. “Everybody’s just been great.”
Palermo and Elliot live together with a host family, another thing some of the Mustangs are unable to say as they currently stay at a local hotel, making the adjustment period to moving to Martinsville an easier process.
“It’s great so far. I like all my teammates. I like all my coaches. The area is nice, my host family is feat, so a great first impression,” he said.
As a pitcher that has already played in two different situations, Palermo is one that has his game-day routine. He’s not the most superstitious baseball player with the crazy ticks, but he does like to follow his same routine when he’s at the field.
“I’m not super superstitious, but yeah I like doing things a certain way. I have the same routine before games, the same routine before I throw,” he said. “I try to do the same thing… just not really change much.”
On the mound, Palermo isn’t a one-style pitcher. He’s a young player, and knows what his strengths are, but he also knows that each hitter is different and situations change throughout an outing and he needs to be able to handle those changes.
“My two biggest strengths are probably my fastball and changeup, but really being able to adapt,” he said. “You want to be able to adjust to the situation, adjust to the hitter.”
The summer is a long one. The teams in the Coastal Plain League more than 50 games between late may and early August. Everyone in the clubhouse at Hooker Field wants to win a lot of games while they’re here in Martinsville, but Palermo wants to try to keep things day-to-day.
“You don’t want to look too far ahead. You just want to do everything you can that day to get better,” he said.
The Mustangs are scheduled to return home Saturday night against Fayetteville at 7:15 p.m.