The long road to success for the National League's hottest hitter

MLB columnist
Yahoo Sports

LOS ANGELES – David Peralta could have gone home and hardly anyone would have blamed him. Hardly anyone would have noticed. Maybe he’d become a trainer or a coach or work with his dad. He was young enough to go back to school, start over, forget this love affair with baseball. It clearly didn’t love him back, having dumped him once and threatening again. Always threatening.

Not a single morning, he said, did he wake up and wonder if this was all a waste of time. Not when he was in Harlingen, Texas, or McAllen, Texas. Not when he was in Gary, Indiana, or Sioux City, Iowa. Not in Grand Prairie or any of the towns where they dressed up a ballpark best they could and played baseball wherever the bus stopped, on the fringes of the fringes of the game where the chain-link ran wild.

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No, if this was Tuesday, and he’d be reasonably sure it was a Tuesday, then it must be Amarillo, a fact confirmed by the address on the bed stand phone, and all he’d ask from God or whomever would listen was not should he stay or go, but about what more he could do. Besides, even if his spirit would have waned, and he swore it did not, what could he have said to his father and mother, who believed in him so, and to his girlfriend, who would become his wife and encouraged him so, how could he have confessed to them that he was beaten? Released by the St. Louis Cardinals, finished as a pitcher, toiling for three summers in the independent leagues as an outfielder, taking fast food jobs on the side, reporting for extra batting practice, then more batting practice, and his question was not what else. It was what more.

So it would surprise no one to learn that, years later, when the new manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks called to introduce himself, David Peralta, then recovering from an injury, informed him, “The game was taken away from me once. I’m not going to let anybody take it away again.”

The story is slightly worn, how Peralta recovered from all the crummy things that can happen to a promising baseball career to become one of the wonderful things that can happen to a decent life. He is 31 years old, is four years as a big leaguer since being rescued from indy leagues that would test his determination and teach him to hit, and on Thursday night he was batting cleanup against the Los Angeles Dodgers in one of those late-season series that could change everything.

Arizona Diamondbacks’ David Peralta follows through on a three-run home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fifth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP)
Arizona Diamondbacks’ David Peralta follows through on a three-run home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fifth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP)

But the story, see, it doesn’t just end with David Peralta making it to the major leagues and becoming a regular outfielder and showing everyone what a little hard work and a lot of natural swing will get you. The work, the desperation, the joy, none of that fades. The calls from his father in Venezuela keep coming (as do the hitting tips), and his daughter, 1-year-old Sofia, starts recognizing him on the television, and after a winter spent at the knee of hitting mentor Jose Amado, Peralta lowers his hands, hits more fly balls, generates more power, and on this Thursday night at Dodger Stadium hit his 26th home run, by nine his career best, with a month to play. And the Diamondbacks gain a game in the NL West for it.

That’s the story. That it never gets old. That it’s never over. That the fancy uniform and heavy paychecks are not so much the reward as they are the next bus stop, and the people change but the game does not, and the challenge does not, and the question – what more? – does not. That the man who would not quit, who never considered it, who could not, redirects the energy it required to get here into that to stay here, and then to be better, and then to be an All-Star, and then to do more.

There’s just more fastballs. And an NL West title to chase. And a division juggernaut to unseat. Less chain-link.

“I always told myself, 100 percent every day, best I can,” Peralta said. “If it doesn’t work for me, God has a plan for everybody. I would be satisfied with myself. Yesterday I was in independent ball. Today I’m doing this. I don’t know where I’m going to be tomorrow. So what can I do today? Then, when the day ends, I can’t wait for tomorrow so I can come back and play again.”

So Rich Hill, the veteran left-hander, drops into a sidearm fastball with two runners on base in the fifth inning and David Peralta, the National League’s hottest hitter for a month, lines that bit of funk into the right-field bleachers. His August: 24 games, .376 batting average, 10 home runs, 21 RBIs, OPS around 1.200. A Diamondbacks offense that hasn’t done much otherwise for a month clings to him and waits for reinforcements, and this is what the next month apparently will look like — the Diamondbacks and Dodgers within a couple runs late into the night, the Colorado Rockies tied in extra innings down south before eventually losing, and only the venues will change into October.

The old place goes quiet, quieter than a corner sandlot in Harlingen, Texas, while Peralta circles the bases, two men ahead of him. Through five months of baseball he has a higher OPS than Bryce Harper, Trevor Story, Anthony Rizzo, more home runs than Kyle Schwarber, Cody Bellinger, Freddie Freeman, is out-hitting Anthony Rendon, Javy Baez, Paul Goldschmidt.

David Peralta has been the National League’s hottest hitter for a month. (AP)
David Peralta has been the National League’s hottest hitter for a month. (AP)

And a couple hours later the line of handshakes gets to Peralta, better than he’s ever been, just as he always believed he would. Otherwise, how would he be?

“I remind myself where I’m coming from, where I came from,” Peralta said. “I stay humble. I remember my family. I do my job.”

And if no one but David Peralta knows — Peralta and his teammates — then that’s just the way it is.

“He’s not a secret to us,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “He’s not a secret to the National League West, I guarantee you.”

Peralta shrugged at such a notion. You want to see anonymity? It’s inside those chain-link fences.

“My job,” he said, “is to come every day and perform and do what I have to do and control what I can control. If I’m under the radar, that’s not my job.”

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