By the time he returned to the Rangers as a free agent, Palmeiro had front-row-of-the-bleachers pop and a perfected swing that made 500 an inevitability. In Chicago and his first Texas stint, at old Arlington Stadium, Palmeiro had hit a home run every 29.3 at bats; in Baltimore, with the cozy rightfield fence at Camden Yards, he'd almost halved that ratio (once every 15.7 at bats). Similar dimensions at the Ballpark (which has a rightfield power alley of 381 feet) further whetted his home run appetite. "The best decision of my career was coming back," he says with a smile.
While those fans have been treated to his power-packed (if largely unheralded) return engagement, his teammates have seen Palmeiro evolve as a vocal leader. He has reached out to younger players, particularly his possible successor at first base, Mark Teixeira, while embracing—and being embraced by—A-Rod. "You come across so many guys that disappoint you once you play with them. But the more you know Raffy, the more you want to learn from him," says the shortstop. "He's the one guy here who has more knowledge than I do. He knows where he belongs now. He's going right past 500, and 600 is waiting there for him."
And Palmeiro can taste it, sweet and career-defining. He interrupted a question about "coming down the stretch" to the historic clout. "Oh, this isn't the stretch," he said quickly. "No way. I've got plenty more, man." Palmeiro has waited too long for the game to stop for him. He has already moved on to a bigger goal. "As long as I keep my best shape for three or four more years," he says, "600 isn't at all out of the question. It's a matter of time."
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