By Lee Davis
About 15 years ago, Palmer Karr was getting crucial hits and making big plays in the outfield for the Homewood Patriots.
Today, most of Karr’s high school teammates are working in a myriad of fields, few of which have anything to do with baseball.
Karr, who turned 32 last week, is still playing the game he loves. He is a star outfielder for the Grand Prairie Air Hogs of the American Association, with no immediate plans to retire.
“I’m living the dream,” said Karr when contacted last week. “I still really enjoy playing. I know it’s a cliché, but baseball has been very good to me. I’ve gotten to see so much of America and played in Mexico and Canada. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”
Karr’s career in the minor leagues has seen him wear the uniforms of teams such as the Pensacola Pelicans, the El Paso Diablos and the Sioux City Explorers, finally arriving at Grand Prairie. In 10 years, he has earned a career batting average of .283. This season Karr got off to one of his best starts, with his average rocketing to .370 before settling down to .290.
“That’s the way baseball is,” Karr said. “Sometimes you’re hitting everything in front of you, and then you get in a slump nobody can explain. You just have to work through it.”
Life in the minor leagues can be nomadic. In 2013, Karr played for three teams in one season. And the method of travel for road games–both near and far–is the bus.
“Actually those bus rides aren’t quite like people think they are,” Karr said. “Our bus with Grand Prairie is an 18-wheeler with 28 beds and satellite TV, so it’s really not a bad way to travel.”
The longest bus ride Karr remembers is a 26-hour marathon to Winnipeg in Canada.
“Believe or not, it was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was a great way for the players to get to know each other. When you spend 26 hours on a bus with a bunch of guys, you’re going to know them pretty well.”
Needless to say, the camaraderie developed on those long bus rides sometimes leads to hilarious locker room pranks.
“When you get that many guys together, what else can you expect?” he said, laughing. “It’s everything you can imagine. I could tell you some crazy stuff, but they are all good guys and all the pranks are in good fun.”
As one of the oldest players on the Grand Prairie roster, Karr takes his leadership responsibilities seriously.
“Being older means setting an example for the young fellows,” he said. “I have to remember that they are paying attention to anything I do or say. I’ve always tried to live by three rules:
“First, you should value other people’s time by being on time. Second, treat every at-bat as if it’s your last one–because it could be. And third, sometimes you have to swing for the fences.
“I think those things relate a lot to life as well as baseball.”
Karr apparently follows his own advice, particularly in the postseason. As something of a minor league version of former Oakland A’s and New York Yankees great Reggie Jackson, Karr seems to be at his best when his team is in the playoffs. One year, Karr hit .400 in the postseason.
“I don’t really know why, but for some reason I always get a lot of big hits and play well if we’re in the playoffs,” he said. “Call it experience, maybe?”
Karr has had opportunities to leave the game but turned them down. A few years ago Berry College in Georgia, his alma mater, called with a job offer.
“They offered me a full-time position as a hitting coach,” he said. “It was tempting, but I said no. I just wasn’t ready to stop playing.”
But after 10 years in the minor leagues and three surgeries, Karr knows his ride is nearing its end. And as always, he will put the needs of his wife, Jaime, and six-month-old daughter, Charlotte, first.
“I know this can’t go on forever, but I just want to play the best I can for as long as I can,” Karr said. “After that, we’ll see.”
In the meantime, Palmer Karr is still living his dream.