Sometimes there’s a fine line between stalker and Major League Baseball player.
Today, David Peralta, 28, is a blossoming young outfielder with the bat of an artist. He ranks eighth in the National League with a .310 batting average, has his own snazzy "Freight Train" T-shirts circulating in the clubhouse and is beloved by his Arizona Diamondbacks teammates.
Yesterday, he was a washed-out pitcher working the deep fryer and greeting customers at McDonald's, desperately trying to reinvent himself as a baseball player and keeping his cellphone provider in business by staying in touch with his one big league contact, Arizona scout Chris Carminucci.
Well, not literally yesterday. But seemingly yesterday. The McDonald's job was before the 2011 season so he could earn gas money to drive from his home in Florida to Harlingen, Texas, and the independent team that would keep his dream alive.
Two winters, one air mattress, one tattered couch hauled off a street corner and a few hundred bruised dreams later came about, oh, a zillion text messages to Carminucci. The Diamondbacks scout had seen him play in an independent league game for Wichita, Kansas, in 2012 and made contact with him there.
"Every day during spring training, for a full month, I texted him," Peralta says. "Thirty-some texts.
"I was like, 'He probably hates me.'"
"He was right on the border," Carminucci says, chuckling at the memory. "I told him to stay in touch with me, and I'll be damned if he didn't text every day. Sometimes twice a day.
"He wanted it more than anybody."
Desperation and passion sometimes push all of us out onto the edge. Peralta was there. He was a young, left-handed pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals' organization—threw 94 mph, signed in 2005, great future ahead.
Then came one shoulder surgery. Then came a second.
Then came May 5, 2009, when the Cardinals released him.
Game of timing? Check this out:
"Those were hard days," Peralta's wife, Jordan, says. "I had met him when he was rehabbing from his second shoulder surgery. And then he went back to Venezuela that October, came back for spring training with the Cardinals in February, and then he got released a week before my college graduation.
"I was devastated because it was the first time he was going to meet my family. And when you get released, they ship you out the next day. He convinced them to buy his flight out a day or two after my graduation, so he stayed an extra week."
While sitting out the 2010 season, Peralta, who was determined to keep his baseball dream alive as a hitter, met someone who hooked him up with Rio Grande Valley in the independent North American Baseball League. But with Jordan teaching physical education at a school near their home in Florida and Peralta out of baseball, they weren't exactly rich. And it was going to take a lot of gas money for him to drive the 1,400 miles from Florida to Harlingen, Texas.
A good friend was the manager of a McDonald's not far from his home in Stuart, Florida. Hey, David said, can I work for you for a few weeks?
So he went to work cooking French fries and manning the cash registers. Front counter and drive-thru.
"Dealing with customers was the hardest," Peralta says. "Sometimes, they ask too much. Or they say this is not what I ordered.
"There were some times you just had to smile. The customer is always right."
Says Jordan: "He worked the crappiest shifts. I remember he worked overnight a few times. Late nights, early mornings. It cracked me up seeing him work at McDonald's. It was his first job out in the real world, away from baseball. He would get little old ladies flirting with him in the drive-thru. Making fries. Worst job ever."
Customers weren't the only difficulty.
"He still, to this day, doesn't know how to tie a tie," Jordan says. "He had to wear a tie at McDonald's, so a cousin's husband tied it his first day. From then on, he'd just loosen it up and pull it over his head when he had to take it off."
Yeah, talk about jumping through hoops. To transition from pitcher to position player, he knew he had to add muscle and speed. Which he did.
Gas money in hand, he set off for Texas for the 2011 season.
"I asked how much are you going to make, and he said maybe $1,000 a month, and I'm, like, 'What?! That's not going to pay the bills,'" Jordan says. "But he's so low maintenance, he could probably live on $20, $30 a week and be fine. Thank God."
That first summer in independent ball, he slept on an air mattress on the floor.
"I came to visit and it was like, 'This is where you live?'" Jordan says. "Then they found a couch on the corner or something."
Peralta played a second season of independent ball in 2012 in Wichita, which is when Carminucci spotted him, and then he embarked on a third season in 2013 in Amarillo.
"I was frustrated at times because I'd go months without seeing him," Jordan says. "One year of independent ball, OK. Then a second year. Then a third year of independent ball and it was, 'OK, where is this going?'
"He'd tell me, 'Be patient, be patient. Good things are coming.'"
Talk about putting a relationship to the test—and not only in the obvious, long-distance-relationship kind of way.
"She would throw me batting practice in the winters," David says. "And sometimes after a game she'd call me and say, 'What are you swinging at? That pitch was in the dirt.' And I'd say, 'Hey, it's not easy.'"
See, Jordan played three years of softball at Palm Beach Atlantic University. And you can bet she chuckles when she hears this.
"Sometimes, watching from the stands, some balls they swing at, I'm like, 'Really?'" she says. "And it would be the same pitch three or four times in row. It's like, 'Didn't you learn from the first one?'"
In the beginning, Jordan enjoyed throwing batting practice because she missed playing softball. And David would reciprocate by throwing some soft toss to her.
But as you might imagine, batting practice eventually became quite dangerous because Peralta hit the ball so hard. Though she threw from behind a protective L screen, balls ricocheted off poles and nailed her in the ankle and arm. Her father threw David batting practice, too, and was struck in the neck.
"I think that was the last time my dad threw him BP," Jordan says. "Now David works out with one of the local high school teams. It's all better."
Before the 2013 season and his final independent league days in Amarillo, Peralta finally got his workout with Carminucci in Tampa, Florida. Just the two of them, and Carminucci reported back to Mike Bell, Arizona's director of player development, that when a spot opened, the Diamondbacks should sign this minor league free agent.
Finally, on July 3, 2013, that happened.
And you think simply grabbing your dream by the tail and landing with a major league organization eases all worries?
"He took a huge pay cut when the Diamondbacks signed him; his salary was almost cut in half," Jordan says. "But he was so excited to finally be back in affiliated ball. And I was so happy for him."
Over 51 games at Class A Visalia, he hit .346 with eight homers and 42 RBI. Arizona promoted him to Double-A Mobile to start the 2014 season. After 53 games there, it was hello, big leagues.
"Nothing is easy in baseball," Peralta, 28, says, now standing proudly—and deservedly—in the Dodger Stadium visiting clubhouse. "It takes hard work and dedication, and if you do the right things, everything can come together."
For a time with the Diamondbacks, he played only against right-handers. Then, earlier this year, a couple of injuries opened up some more playing time, and he began to prove he could hit left-handers, too. Through Thursday, his .361 batting average since the All-Star break ranked second in the NL behind Cincinnati's Joey Votto (.375) and was the best second-half average by a Diamondbacks player in club history.
"He's been great," Diamondbacks MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt says. "You forget he's only been hitting for a few years. His improvement has been incredible."
If only those little old ladies who once flirted with him in the McDonald's drive-thru a few winters ago could see him now...
"This is something you can't imagine," says Peralta, who now is called "Freight Train," a nickname bestowed by D-Backs broadcaster Steve Berthiaume. "When you're here, I feel like I want to go get all of the minor league guys and say, 'Work hard, because this is amazing.'"
We all need people to believe in us. What Bell and Carminucci have done, well, just look what can happen.
"My own kids are four, nine and 11, and I use David as a real success story," Carminucci says. "I tell them that if you want something, you don't let anything stop you.
"They know the whole story, even at their young age. He's the kind of person I want them to be like. He wasn't given anything in this life. Matter of fact, it was the other direction. People said he'll fizzle out.
"I've got to tell you, when I signed him, I had so many people tell me he wouldn't make it out of A-ball. Not people in our organization, but in the baseball world. It was like, 'Really? You're going to sign that guy?'"
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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