Tyler Palmer wore Gator blue and orange before he wore Canes green and orange, but he was always a Canes fan — ever since he played shortstop in Little League and was a Hurricanes “baseball buddy’’ standing next to his favorite, Javy Rodriguez, or some other Hurricane during the national anthem at Mark Light Field.
“It was weirder putting on a Gator uniform than it was coming back and putting on a Canes uniform because I grew up a Canes fan,” said Palmer, now a 22-year-old UM senior captain. “It was weirder putting on blue and orange than green and orange.’’
Palmer, who transferred to Miami after his freshman season because of personal family circumstances, will face his former school this weekend in a three-game series that begins at 7 p.m. Friday at Alex Rodriguez Park.
Palmer’s former suitemate at UF, right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson, will start for the No. 23 Gators (4-1) on Sunday.
“I talked to him last week to see how he was doing over there,” Palmer said. “We’ve stayed in touch. He called me after I left, wishing me the best, along with a couple other teammates. No hard feelings.”
Palmer was recruited by UM (2-2) but went to Florida for various reasons, not the least of which being that college costs, even with a partial baseball scholarship offer at UM, was a lot less expensive at a state school.
But he is more than thankful he’s back home — he grew up in Pembroke Pines and graduated from University School — and is ready to be hounded by vocal UF fans, though it won’t be as intense as it is in Gainesville.
“When I returned last year, the rowdy reptiles in the left-field bleachers — they used to call them the bleacher creatures — were messing with me, screaming my name and welcoming me back,” said Palmer, who is hitting .357 with one home run, 3 RBI and a double. “It was funny.”
What’s not so funny in this young season is UM’s struggles at the plate. The Canes, led by Palmer and senior Dale Carey’s .400 average, are hitting .228 as a team. Defensively, they have made 12 errors.
“We’ve got a lot of [young] guys out there right now that I don’t think are playing very confident,’’ said UM coach Jim Morris after Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to FAU. “They’ve got to learn how to do that.”
The Hurricanes’ recruiting class was ranked sixth in the nation by Baseball America. The Gators’ class was No. 1.
Florida, managed by Kevin O’Sullivan, will go with left-handed junior Bobby Poyner (1-0, 0.00 ERA) on Friday, with junior Chris Diaz (1-0, 1.80) pitching for Miami.
UF (29-30 in 2013) has defeated UM in 13 of their previous 14 meetings, including 11 in a row until the Canes won the opener last season. The Gators, like the Canes, were eliminated last year in the NCAA regionals.
“I put it behind me the second after we lost,’’ said UF junior catcher Taylor Gushue of Boca Raton.
“As a baseball player, you don’t really want to dwell on the past too much. You want to learn from it.’’