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Callers ringing up Palmeiro include one fan named Bush
SEATTLE - The morning after securing baseball immortality with his 3,000th career hit, Rafael Palmeiro was in his hotel room playing telephone operator.
He said he received "40 to 50" calls and voice-mail messages from friends and family offering congratulations.
His elderly parents in Miami called and said they were proud. So did former teammates Ivan Rodriguez and Kenny Rogers. But the one he'll remember most was a five-minute chat at about 11 a.m. with former Texas Rangers owner and current defender of the free world George W. Bush.
"It was a great honor. I have known President Bush now for most of my career because he was with the Rangers when I first went to Texas," Palmeiro said. "We had a nice conversation. He was very proud for me to reach that milestone. He talked about me coming from Cuba and that it has been a long road, and he asked about my kids."
Bush, who also called Palmeiro after he hit his 500th home run in May 2003, invited the Palmeiro family to the White House when they get back to Baltimore.
"With the things that are going on in the world right now, with all the crazy stuff and with him being so busy, for him to take time out to call me and congratulate me, that means a lot to me," Palmeiro said. "It was very important for me."
When Palmeiro got back to his hotel room Friday night, he said he watched a replay of his historic hit - a one-out RBI double to left against the Seattle Mariners' Joel Pineiro in the fifth inning - on ESPN.
He watched it again yesterday morning, reliving the moment and the subsequent celebration at second base when he was mobbed by his teammates and his two sons, Patrick, 15, and Preston, 10. Preston, who moments before had taped the event from the dugout, was lifted into the air by his dad.
"I think that was the most emotional, when I picked up my youngest," Palmeiro said. "I gave my oldest son a hug, too, but I think when I picked up the little one was when it hit me."
Preston called it "really awesome." He admitted his eyes welled up "maybe a little bit," something his older brother quickly razzed him about.
"I saw a little tears in his eyes," Patrick taunted his brother. "Oh, it's OK, boy."
The youngest Palmeiro wasn't the only emotional one on the field Friday.
"I don't cry, because you know you have to stay tough," said Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora. "But, man, you don't see that many times. Yeah, I was [emotional], especially when I scored the run when he hit his 3,000th."
The biggest moment for most of the Orioles was when they ran onto the field and encircled their first baseman. It was an unusual response in a visiting ballpark, but the Seattle fans and players applauded the scene.
"We were on the road, so it was a tough situation, but this doesn't happen very often," outfielder Jay Gibbons said. "And so we said, `We are going out there and make them kick us off.' And the umpires were great and Seattle was great. They knew how big it was."
Years down the road, it's a moment few involved will forget.
"That was probably one of the coolest things I've ever seen," said catcher Sal Fasano. "You realize what he did was just an absolute feat. You're almost in awe. Everybody was on the top step. I was cheering my tail off like it was the seventh game of the World Series."
With the double, Palmeiro became just the fourth player in baseball history to collect 3,000 hits and more than 500 home runs - joining Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Eddie Murray.
"I just think people don't appreciate what this guy has done in his career and maybe they will after this," Gibbons said.
It was especially poignant, Palmeiro said, because he shared it with his two sons.
"I wanted them to be a part of that so one day they can really appreciate it," he said. "I think they are too young to really understand it completely. But when they get old enough and they look at the videos they will understand."
He said he also couldn't grasp the magnitude of what he accomplished Friday night. He said the moment was "more magical" than when he hit 500 homers. But he's glad it's over with, and the spotlight can again be focused on his team's pennant chase.
"When the season is over with, maybe it will sink in," he said. "But right now we've got to get back to getting out there and trying to [win]."
Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.