Among those mourning the death of Ricky Palmer, Coach Tim Lyons is remembering his days coaching the talented athlete at Br. Rice High School.
Palmer, 29, died on Oct. 17 after a yearlong battle with brain cancer.
Lyons said he has many great memories about Palmer, who was a leader and calming presence for the Crusaders, but one especially stands out.
“We were playing St. Rita his senior year for the Catholic League-Blue title. I was nervous,” Lyons said. “Ricky led off for us, and the first pitch he saw, he hit it over the left field fence. As he was rounding third, he said ‘We got this, Coach!’ We went on to win the game. That was Ricky. He touched everything in his life in a positive way.”
Palmer was an Orland Park native and a 2009 Br. Rice grad.
He went on to play at the University of Notre Dame, where he earned a degree in finance. He later earned his master’s degree in data analytics from the University of Chicago.
In late 2019, Palmer told his mom, Priscilla, that he hadn’t been feeling well. His vision was slightly blurry, but it improved over the course of the day.
A doctor’s check-up and a MRI revealed a small spot on his right frontal lobe. Palmer spent the next two months going through a whirlwind of procedures. He suffered a seizure in early February and was later diagnosed with brain cancer.
Tom Gibson, a fellow 2009 grad, was one of Palmer’s close friends.
“It’s kind of crazy. One year ago about this time he was perfectly fine,” Gibson said. “Ricky was a kid who fought through everything. He was one of the smartest, most hard-working people I knew. It’s just tough.”
Gibson is a teacher in the physical education department at Br. Rice.
Lyons coached the Br. Rice varsity team from the 2001 season through the 2010 season, including Palmer’s three-year varsity career.
He is a member of the Br. Rice faculty in the history department. Lyons praised Palmer for being a tremendous person.
“It’s gut-wrenching. It’s very, very tough,” Lyons said. “He was surrounded by so many great people. There was no negative in Ricky. His teammates, his classmates, his teachers, they all loved him. On and off the field, he was a treat to coach.”
Pat Gannon, also a 2009 Br. Rice grad, met Ricky during their freshman year at the high school, both attending summer athletic camps.
They went on to have a close friendship, on and off the field, Palmer a catcher and Gannon a starting pitcher.
“We had played each other on the travel circuit but didn’t know each other’s names,” Gannon said. “Ricky fit in right away. Hanging out at Gibson’s house, waiting for a ride home, hanging out with friends at a park on the weekend, everything just clicked.”
Gannon said Palmer’s friendly, calm demeanor went a long way when the Crusaders took the field.
In the 2007 season, Gannon remembered giving up some early runs in a key playoff game, prompting a dugout visit from Lyons.
“Coach said a 6-year-old could throw harder than me,” Gannon said with a laugh. “But, Ricky said to just shake it off. ‘It’s me and you, pitch by pitch, we’ll get through it. Focus on my glove, and we’ll get it done.’ We did. We ended up going downstate.”
The 2007 Br. Rice team finished fourth in Class AA.
Following their senior seasons in 2009, Palmer and Gannon were named to the Chicago Catholic League All-Star game played at Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the Chicago White Sox.
“I threw probably the worst bullpen ever,” Gannon said. “Ricky said ‘Relax, breathe, we’ve done this before. It’s you and me.’ I ended up pitching well. Ricky was a rock. He was so calm, so cool in those games.”
With Palmer at Notre Dame and Gannon at Purdue, the duo faced off in nonconference games but were never able to square off as opponents from the mound to the batter’s box.
“The thing about Ricky, he’s one of the most empathetic human beings I’ve ever met,” Gannon said. “I remember so many conversations, just asking how you’re doing, baseball or outside, he was always there with advice.”
After graduation from Br. Rice, Gibson went to Western Michigan University but kept in touch with Palmer. And when his schedule cooperated, Gibson would take a road trip down to South Bend, Ind., to see his friend play with the Fighting Irish.
“We talked all the time, kept in touch after college, saw each other at weddings and get-togethers,” Gibson said. “A couple times, I drove down to see some Wednesday night games at ND. We’d go to some football games; shoot him a text, and he’d let us stay at the dorm or apartment. We even surprised him once. He was shocked to see us, but it was always a good time to see Ricky.”
Gannon said he saw Palmer last year at Merchandise Mart, and the two friends reconnected over a cup of coffee.
Gibson said he was able to watch a Blackhawks game with Palmer pre-pandemic late last winter.
“Ricky was the biggest Chicago sports fan. We always connected watching the Hawks, but he was a diehard Cubs and Bears fan,” Gibson said. “It’s crazy. We’d talk all the time. There are too many favorite stories to narrow it down to one. He was just a good friend who would always be there for you.”
Lyons summed his former player up in simple fashion. He was good.
“Ricky touched everything in his life in a positive way, no negative,” Lyons said. “He was such a positive guy to talk to. He was determined to perfect things, to be the best and do it in a quiet, mannered way. He worked and worked. I will miss him dearly.”