David Peralta’s quest to return to the majors with the Chicago Cubs is the latest chapter in an incredible journey

David Peralta needed gas money.

The circumstances surrounding his dilemma were not what Peralta envisioned when he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals as a 17-year-old amateur free agent out of Venezuela. Peralta, then a pitcher, endured two surgeries to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. After the second procedure caused him to miss the entire 2008 season, the Cardinals released him in May 2009 at age 21.

He would go three years between playing in a professional baseball game. Getting fully healthy became an important priority for Peralta, who went back home to Venezuela while he regrouped and prepared for that next shot. As he leaned on his family to get through the challenging stretch, his dad suggested he convert to a hitter after his surgeries.

When Peralta finally got another pro opportunity in 2011, this time with an independent league, another hurdle arose. He needed to get from his place in Port St. Lucie, Fla., to Harlingen, Texas. A flight to the small town near the Mexican border was too expensive, so Peralta had to make the roughly 21-hour, 1,400-mile drive.

But first he needed to come up with about $300 to cover refilling the gas tank multiple times. He worked at McDonald’s for one month to raise the money. Peralta remembers his back hurting for a week afterward, but it was worth it.

His three seasons in indy ball with three teams eventually led to a minor-league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013. Peralta made his major-league debut the following June at age 26 and won Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards in 2019 as the Diamondbacks left fielder.

“People don’t realize — and not just me but everyone — what we are going through to get to this point,” Peralta told the Tribune. “So that’s why I always like to share my story — it’s not easy to get here.

“I’m lucky to have the best parents because without them and my family, I don’t think that I would have made it. I could easily take credit and say, ‘Yeah, I did it,’ but it took a lot of people around me that helped me stay on my feet and gave me a pat on the back and said, ‘Hey, you’re going to make it.'”

Peralta shared with his Chicago Cubs teammates the story of his winding journey and working at McDonald’s to keep his career alive during one of the player-led, 10-minute Q&A sessions that manager Craig Counsell implemented during clubhouse meetings in spring training. Multiple players described Peralta’s as the most impactful.

His veteran presence was felt in the dugout during workouts and Cactus League games even though Peralta, 36, was initially limited and then could only DH as he built up from flexor tendon surgery on his left arm in October. Peralta signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs in February after spending 2023 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“It’s certainly a great story to understand he’s been in tougher spots than most of these guys have as players,” Counsell said. “We’re excited about having a player like that getting ready to go. It’s certainly great depth at this point.”

Grinding through three seasons of indy ball never diminished Peralta’s love of the game. But in his second season in 2012 with Wichita of the American Association, he hit an offensive slump, recalling an 0-for-30 stretch.

“In independent ball, you either have to do good or you get released,” Peralta said. “It’s not like the minors where it’s a process.”

Peralta remembers calling his wife, Jordan, and freaking out that he was about to get cut, remembering what that felt like with the Cardinals. Losing his job with an independent league team might mark the end of his pro career.

Jordan unleashed tough love during the phone call, telling Peralta to get it together and that she didn’t want to hear it. The message was the smack in the face Peralta needed in that moment.

“And believe it or not, I started hitting,” Peralta said with a smile. “This game is really hard. It’s easy when you’re doing good. Everything’s perfect. But when you get down, that’s the hard part. How do you get up and keep walking forward?”

Twelve years after that conversation with his wife, Peralta is a career .279 hitter in the majors with a .335 on-base percentage and 108 OPS+ with three organizations. He knew this season would be tough because of his offseason surgery. But, as he pointed out, he has done it before.

“This is not going to knock me out,” Peralta said. “I’m going to just go for it and I’m going to keep doing it because I know I still have a lot of baseball in me and many more years.”

Peralta needs only 50 more days on a big-league roster to reach 10 years of service time, a milestone that once seemed unfathomable when he was clinging to his pro career in indy ball. It would mean everything to Peralta to reach a goal every player hopes to attain.

“I can’t wait for that moment,” he said. “Everything that I went through, man … I don’t even know how to explain it because it’s the stuff you live with every day, that you work for.

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“I sacrificed so much stuff. I sacrificed time with my family. And I wondered to myself, ‘Did I do the right thing to sacrifice time just to go to work?’ And now, seeing all the results and getting close to 10 years, it’s worth it.”

When big-league camp broke two weeks ago, Peralta stayed back at the Cubs complex to continue building up arm strength. He completed his throwing progression Monday and is expected to stay in Arizona to get game action in the outfield before reporting to Triple-A Iowa for a rehab assignment.

Peralta holds a May 1 opt-out in his minor-league deal after declining his initial opt-out date near the end of spring training. He preferred to stick with the Cubs and complete the rehab process because of the opportunity they provided this spring and how they believed in him.

“I really like this team,” Peralta said. “I’m going to do everything I can to get ready and to come back to the guys and help them win.”

There isn’t an obvious path to the majors for Peralta with the Cubs, though the front office has three weeks until he could force it to make a decision. Whether his next big-league chance comes with the Cubs or elsewhere, Peralta believes the final chapter of his baseball journey has not been written.

“There’s so many things that you’re going through that the people don’t know,” he said, “and sometimes you keep it to yourself because it’s part of life that you have to go through. But I never put my head down.”