April 30, 2011
By Jon Cooper
There was no way Daniel Palka was not going to be involved in this weekend’s series between Georgia Tech and Clemson.
That turned out to be good news for the Yellow Jackets, although for the longest time seemed like that wouldn’t be the case.
The Lyman, S.C., native and star at Greer High School had verbally committed to Clemson before reconsidering and chose to attend Georgia Tech. This weekend, he heads home and visits Clemson wearing the enemy colors.
Palka, who has hit eight homers with a .561 slugging percentage, both team highs and in the top 10 in the ACC, has driven in 38 runs, second only to Matt Skole (11th in the league), and is batting .305 fifth on the team, is excited to get his first taste of the heated Georgia Tech-Clemson rivalry.
“It’s exciting. It’s not too far from home but I’m pretty excited to play there,” said Palka.
He knows he will hear some derisive calls from Tiger faithful, as anyone wearing Georgia Tech colors would, but he doesn’t expect he will receive extra special treatment.
“I don’t think it will be any different than any other school,” he said. “It’s really no big deal as far as that goes. We take it as a rivalry. They’re our ACC rival, so they’re really important games.”
“I think that they’re a big rival of ours,” said Head Coach Danny Hall. “That’s the closest school to us. They, obviously, try to come into Georgia and recruit players. So it’s definitely up high on the list in terms of rivals.”
Palka will people in his corner to help any anxiety that should arise in his return home. Included in that help is closer Luke Bard, a Charlotte, North Carolina resident, who has returned home and pitched on several occasions.
“You’re going to have a lot of people you know in the stands. That makes a difference,” said Bard, whose girlfriend attends Clemson and who expected his parents to be in attendance (Palka expected his parents to be there, but not many friends). “You have to be ready to go, you want to play well against those people. As far as your approach goes, it’s still the same. You’re still playing baseball. You still have to go out and do your thing.
“I wouldn’t say there’s anything hard about it,” he added. “The main thing is you might get a little more or a little more anxious. But nothing really changes as far as a baseball standpoint. You still go out there with the same mentality, the same game plan.”
Hall said he was going to make sure he reinforces the game plan with his freshman.
“He just needs to stay within himself, do what he normally does and not try to do anything extra,” said Hall. “I think that’s what he should worry about. Not about going back and playing in his hometown. But in Daniel’s case, where he had verbally committed to Clemson, then de-committed and came our way, I’ll talk to him a little bit about it.”
Palka downplays his role as a lightening rod in the series.
“I don’t really know many people on their team so I don’t know how much of a difference that is to them. but I know we’re all excited.”