Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder David Peralta has learned to live in the here and now. But after an injury-plagued 2016 season, the “Freight Train,” as they call him, is looking forward to returning to his home field on Sunday, April 2, to take on the San Francisco Giants.
“Last season was kind of tough for everybody,” says Peralta, calling from Florida where he lives in the offseason with wife, Jordan.
“There were a lot of injuries, including myself. When we started Spring Training (in 2016), everybody was expecting a lot from us. But in the regular season, we didn’t start the right way.”
After striking a winning Spring Training record, the Diamondbacks went 3-7 in the first 10 games of the regular season. Peralta says he learned from those games.
“We learn from all the bad things that happen,” he says. “We were a young team—we had a lot of young people. We learn from that. I think we have more experience and we’ll be much better next season.”
Peralta lauded the new coaching staff, including manager Torey Lovullo, who replaced ousted leader Chip Hale.
“I’m not saying the old coaches were bad,” Peralta says. “It’s not their fault. It’s everybody’s fault. We didn’t do the job the way we were supposed to.
“We’re not perfect and they’re not perfect. We have to accept everything. I’ve turned the page with surgery. I’m feeling really good right now. I’m sure everybody’s excited to get a new start.”
Fresh starts are nothing new to Peralta, a 29-year-old athlete who stands at 6-feet 1-inch, and weighs 161 pounds.
Peralta grew up in Venezuela, dreaming of becoming a professional baseball player. He saw men in the “bigs” signing autographs, taking pictures with fans and smacking home runs—all things he yearned to do.
“I was looking forward to being one of those guys,” Peralta says. “Finally, I got the opportunity to be one of those guys.”
But his first round in the MLB didn’t go well. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals as an amateur free agent on September 26, 2004. Then a pitcher, Peralta was released five years later.
What comes next is a much-documented story; one that is similar to Kurt Warner’s rise from the ashes. By the 2011 season, he was greeting customers at McDonald’s. He used the money to commute between Florida and Harlingen, Texas, where he would play indie ball.
A Diamondbacks scout saw him play in a game for Wichita, Kansas, in 2012. On July 3, 2013, he inked a deal with the D-backs as a free agent.
“It was tough,” Peralta says. “It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t hard. It was both ways.
“The toughest part was having to leave my country to come here, to a new situation. I had to make a lot of phone calls. I didn’t have an agent. I had to do everything myself. It was hard. I used to be a pitcher.
“I was trying to become an outfielder, on an independent team. But they didn’t know me. I didn’t have any numbers, and I wasn’t a hitter on a Major League team. It was hard to get an opportunity.”
But someone did: Eddie Dennis, the manager of the WhiteWings.
“He gave me the opportunity and I told him that that was all I wanted,” Peralta says. “I wanted the opportunity to show everything I can do. I started playing really well, putting up good numbers and building my way up.
“I had to go through the hard times to get to where I am now. I went from sleeping on air mattresses during the season to here. It was tough, but it was an experience and I learned from that.”
Since joining the Arizona Diamondbacks, Peralta has become a fan favorite. He amiably signs autographs and takes photos with fans. It’s “the lean,” however, that grabs fans every time. Just as Peralta is getting comfortable in the batter’s box, he leans back to concentrate on his task at hand.
“It started with my first year in the independent ball,” Peralta says with a laugh. “I was using it more to locate with my eyes, my target. Then I started this little flow, to make it look better.
“Now everybody calls it the ‘lean back.’ Everybody likes it. It’s a little bit of a style and it’s working right now.”
Peralta, however, isn’t entirely convinced that he’s one of the most beloved players on the team. Nevertheless, he’s just as devoted to D-backs fans as they are to him.
“I always try to interact with the fans,” he says. “Sometimes when I’m on Instagram, I get messages saying, ‘I was trying to say hi to you!’ I’m sorry but sometimes it’s hard. I wish I could please everyone, take pictures with everyone. When we’re doing stretches before the game starts, I take a couple minutes to sign and take pictures with the fans. We’re trying to do our best to please all the fans.
“We play because of the fans. We’re here because of the fans.”
Fans are cautiously optimistic about the 2017 season, one that will also see the return of fellow outfielder A.J. Pollock who was injured twice in 2016. Some familiar faces have been sent to other teams, in particular Jean Segura and Welington “Beef” Castillo.
“It was hard seeing Segura and all these guys go,” Peralta admits. “But it’s a baseball game and it’s part of the business. The owners have to do whatever they need to do. We have to be thankful with God that we’re still here in the big leagues.
“We just have to play. Baseball is not going to stop. We’re really excited with the new players we have and the new free agent signings.”
Peralta spent his offseason in Florida rehabbing his wrist, which he injured when he slammed it against a fence to make a game-saving catch in August against the Brewers. He also injured his wrist earlier in the season.
But he thanks God for all of it.
“You have to appreciate what you have right now,” Peralta says confidently. “I’m very proud of myself and I always say thanks to my family and my wife. They all supported me. Baseball is an up-and-down game. You’re going to go through hard moments. My family is always with me, though. My wife is always with me in those hard moments. They help you go forward. When you fall down, they help you get up and start going for your dreams. That means a lot to me.”