Aaron Palensky was driving around Fremont, Nebraska delivering packages for Amazon this summer. Like many college baseball players, his future in the sport was uncertain during the on-going pandemic.
Then, a call from an unknown number changed everything.
“I answered and the guy said he was from the Yankees, and I remember I was driving and just stopped the truck and pulled over right away to talk to him,” Palensky said. “Right after that, I called my dad like, ‘Pops, Pops, the Yankees just called me.’”
And it wasn’t like they were diehard Yankees fans, Palensky said.
“But, like, it’s the New York Yankees, you know, they’re the most well-known baseball team ever, and they wanted me.”
Why him? Why had the New York Yankees called him? Well, maybe it was the hard work, character, leadership and faith — all words former teammates and coaches will use to describe Palensky during his time at Nebraska.
Palensky had already received a once-in-a-lifetime offer that he could not believe — when he was recruited to play for the Huskers.
“It kind of blew me away because, I mean, it’s Nebraska, you know,” he said. “I’m from Nebraska, and I always looked up to Nebraska to be a place where I would never be able to ever go just because I never thought I was good enough. I didn’t think that I would be recruited there, but when I was, it was really kind of a whirlwind. It happened really fast.”
What sticks out to a fan when looking back at Palensky’s impressive and short two-year career at Nebraska, was his on-field ability. In 2019, he led the Huskers in batting average, hits, runs scored, home runs, total bases, doubles and triples — all as a sophomore.
But what many fans do not see is the work behind-the-scenes, the faith that inspires him and the lasting impression he leaves on teammates, teachers and peers. All of this helped lead the Omaha-native to sign with the Yankees this summer, and maybe one day, playing in the Bronx in the famous pinstripes.
Coming off of his senior year of high school at Papillion-La Vista South in 2017, Palensky was awarded a second-team USA Today All-Nebraska selection but no Division I offers.
The uncertainty led him to follow in his brother’s footsteps and attend Southeast Community College in Lincoln, for his first years of college ball.
Starting right away his freshman season, Palensky racked up a batting average of .417 with 18 home runs, 77 RBIs, 72 runs scored, 24 stolen bases and 43 extra-base hits — all while posting an .850 slugging percentage and a .515 on-base percentage.
This quickly turned heads at the Division I level for Palensky. Coaches from the University of Illinois and Indiana University contacted him about playing for their programs the next year. His junior college team was playing in the Super Regionals his freshman year. They had just lost.
“Nebraska has been calling me nonstop for the last month,” his coach said to him. “I’m gonna set up a visit for you, and I think you should go there.”
It was the news Palensky had been waiting for. He made his decision to play college baseball in his home state at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This was a match made in heaven for the Huskers, as Palensky, in his first year, led them to its first NCAA Regional win in five seasons. From that season, Palensky earned Second-Team All-Big Ten Honors and landed on the radar for professional teams around the country.
What is apparent when watching Palensky play is his near supernatural ability to hit. Even to the casual viewer in the stands, when Palensky stepped up to the plate, the Hawks Field at Haymarket Park would buzz with anticipation because of what could happen when the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder stepped to the plate.
But what they didn’t see was the time he put into becoming that good of a hitter and the little things he did to become the baseball player he is today.
“Aaron had a great dedication to becoming better and finding different ways to get better,” said Palensky’s former hitting coach, Lance Harvell. “He spent time perfecting his craft and spent his time in the cage. He never backed down from hard work. And as a person, he is the kind of kid you would want to date your daughter, he’s an all-American boy.”
When teammates think of Palensky, their first thought may be what a fantastic hitter he is. However, this is not how Palensky wants to be remembered.
“Palensky always was the guy that was helping before and after practice setting up, he was always the guy rolling the turtle down from right field to home plate for BP everyday, and I wanted to be like that, never complacent,” said Nebraska freshman All-American Leighton Banjoff, “That’s what he’s so good at: bringing the best out of people.”
Palensky and Banjoff played together after Palensky’s phenomenal sophomore year, but Palensky didn’t act like a player who had just had one of the most impressive years in recent Nebraska baseball history, Banjoff said. When both his former teammate Banjoff and hitting coach Harvell were asked if everybody around him benefited from playing and coaching around him, both had the same answer: 100%.
Palensky is many things: a good baseball player, a good teammate and a hard worker. But if you asked him what trait is the most crucial to his success, it would be his devout faith; he carries himself different than most.
“Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man,” Palensky said when asked about his faith, citing Colossians 3:32 “So, whenever I’m feeling really down on a day, I would say, ‘God, I’m gonna take this time and turn this into a worship session and give whatever I have to you.’”
Palensky is not only devoted to his faith but does his part in sharing his faith and helping fellow teammates in their faith walk.
“There were many times that Aaron and I were at the training table eating and just talked about God, talked about our faith, and just listened to each other,” Banjoff said. “The one thing that he really did a lot was push me to go and search out who I was in my faith. Man, he’s definitely not shy about it — he will let you know that he loves God and that his faith is strong, and you can definitely see that by the way he acts.”
What he does behind closed doors when nobody is looking has made him who he is today.
“Sometimes whenever it was late at night after I would get done hitting, like sometimes, I’ll just walk around the locker room and put hands on all the lockers and just pray for all of them. You know, maybe if I couldn’t do something, you know, hopefully God would step in and do what I couldn’t to help my teammates.”