'He's one of those guys every team wants to have,' La Russa says of D-backs outfielder
By Richard Justice
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- They tell D-backs outfielder David Peralta he should write a book about his life story. They tell him it would make a great movie.
"OK, maybe one day," he says.
The truth is that Peralta has a story that's so sweet and so improbable it might be a tough sell even for a Disney feature.
At 28, Peralta is one of the best players in baseball and possibly one of the least known. That's not likely to be the case much longer.
"He's one of those guys that every team wants to have," D-backs chief baseball officer Tony La Russa said. "He never takes an inning off, whether he's playing defense or running. He never throws an at-bat away."
In 237 Major League games, Peralta has a .301 batting average and an .842 OPS. Last season, his first full one with Arizona, he hit .312 with 26 doubles, 10 triples, 16 home runs and an .893 OPS.
Beyond the numbers is the attitude -- Peralta's nickname is "Freight Train."
"He epitomizes our effort on the field," D-backs manager Chip Hale said. "There's never a lack of energy with David. He's proven he's a good Major League player."
Two years ago when Peralta was tearing up the Minor Leagues, La Russa was curious about his background. And this is the part that will be hard to sell. As much as any player in baseball, Peralta is a reminder of the power of hard work, confidence and refusing to give up.
Peralta was 18 in 2006 when the Cardinals signed him as a left-handed pitcher out of his native Venezuela. He was released after two seasons with an aching arm and a 5.69 ERA. Peralta returned home and considered his options.
"He was broken-hearted," La Russa said. "His dad said, 'Wait a minute, son, you can be an everyday player.' His dad was his inspiration."
Peralta began taking batting practice as soon as his arm healed. He did this hour after hour, focusing on mechanics, on doing the things the way his dad taught him. Peralta learned to play the outfield in a Venezuelan league scouted by the Major Leagues.
Peralta spent three years there, and when nothing panned out, he and his wife moved back to Florida, where he'd played in the Cardinals' system, and began making telephone calls.
"If it didn't happen for me, I was going to be done with baseball and do something else," he said. "It just never crossed my mind that my career was over. People would tell me, 'Hey, you've got talent. There's something you can do. Give it a shot.' I was 21 years old. I was like, 'Why not?'"
Peralta finally found interest from an independent-league team in South Texas. First, though, he needed gas money to get there.
"I knew the manager at a McDonald's near our home in Florida and told him I needed help," Peralta said. "He gave me a job, and I worked the counter, made fries, did a little bit of everything. It was hard work, but it was inspiration for me to follow my dream and get to this level. I learned a lot. It was a good experience. And I got enough money to make the drive to Texas."
Peralta played in the independent league 2 1/2 seasons, making $1,200 a month and sleeping on an air mattress in an apartment with five other players while his wife worked at their home back in Florida. He took 12-hour bus trips and had his love of the game tested again and again. Peralta stayed with it because, well, just because.
"I just knew something good was going to happen for me," he said. "I just had to follow my dream. Everyone has a dream. I was going for mine."
Three years later, in 2013, Peralta's hard work and patience paid off when D-backs scout Chris Carminucci offered him a contract to return to Class A ball and start over. He would be in the big leagues a year later.
"He's such a good-looking hitter that I wanted to know who taught him how to hit," La Russa said. "He's just so fundamentally sound. His dad was his inspiration. He just watched and learned."
Carminucci is a reminder that baseball scouting, at its best, is about looking both at someone's physical capability and also his work ethic and confidence.
"You really have to be strong mentally," Peralta said. "Baseball is 95 percent mental. We all have talent. But you have to be strong."
Peralta played just 95 more games before the D-backs called him up. On June 1, 2014, he flew all night, didn't sleep a wink and found himself standing in the outfield at Chase Field for a Major League game.
"When they were singing the national anthem, I was about to cry because I was so excited," he said. "It was an amazing feeling."
Peralta got two hits that day and has hit ever since.
"It shows you how important perseverance is to being successful," La Russa said. "He's just going into his second full year, and he's certainly one of our leaders because of the way he has carried himself and performed."
Peralta tells of his journey when he speaks to kids.
"I just tell them not to give up," he said. "I tell parents to give their kids everything they need to follow their dreams. That's what my parents did for me. They always supported me. I know that's one of the big reasons I'm here. They never let me lose my way."
Now, things happen to Peralta that he never expected. Like Royals star catcher Salvador Perez, a fellow Venezuelan, introducing himself.
"I was just so excited to meet him," Peralta said, "and he tells me, 'Your story is really amazing.' When someone like that recognizes you, it's such a good feeling."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.