DETROIT — Cleaning toilets and working overnight shifts at a McDonald’s in Port St. Lucie was a tough way to keep a pro baseball career going.
David Peralta was 23, doing a real job for the first time. He was making fries, manning the drive-thru window, and taking orders and grief from customers — all for $6-7 an hour.
But he had to do something.
Peralta had been released in May 2009 by the Cardinals after two so-so seasons, and two shoulder surgeries, as a pitcher. He wanted to continue to chase his big-league dream again as an outfielder. But with no place to play the next year, he sat at home in Florida, his wife Jordan — a former college softball player — throwing him batting practice.
He had one offer for 2011, in one of the lesser independent leagues, with Rio Grande Valley of the North American Baseball League. So he had to get 1,400 miles from Florida to Harlingen, Texas.
“It wasn’t easy, but I needed money to pay for the gas,” Peralta said. “So I worked for a month at McDonald’s to get it to go play.”
Life in independent ball wasn’t much better.
But it turned out to be the start of the rest of his life — which now has brought him to the Rays via trade.
“It’s such an incredible story,” said Chris Carminucci, the Diamondbacks scout who eventually signed him. “I will spend the rest of my life trying to find that next David Peralta. And I can tell you, it’s going to be hard.”
Peralta was making maybe $1,200 a month with Rio Grande Valley sending some of it home to Jordan, who’d been working two jobs. Paying rent to share a two-room apartment with three teammates. Sleeping on a leaky air mattress he bought at Wal-Mart, then a couch plucked off a street corner. Going to bed hungry some nights because he ran out of money for food.
But, playing baseball.
“It’s tough,” Peralta said. “You’re just going over there to follow your dream, to get seen and to see if an affiliated team can give you the opportunity.”
It took a while.
After spending 2011 with Rio Grande Valley, he moved up to the American Association, playing (and well) for the Wichita (Kan.) Wingnuts in 2012 and Amarillo (Texas) Sox in 2013. He headed home to Venezuela each winter for whatever playing time he could wrangle.
“I was raking every year and having great numbers, and I was going back to Venezuela to play winter ball to get better,” Peralta said. “Then I started to get anxious, like, ‘Hey, what else to do I need to do to get the attention of a team?’”
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
In his third season of independent league play, Peralta got that break.
Carminucci, whose coverage includes the independent leagues, had heard about the sweet-swinging lefty. Endorsers included longtime big-leaguer Pete Incaviglia, who managed and coached in the same league.
Carminucci went to see Peralta play in 2012 and was impressed. Enough to want to keep an eye on him and eventually give him his number, which Peralta used to text him almost daily, stating his case.
“It wasn’t a situation where he was trying to be overbearing, he just he wanted it so bad,” Carminucci said. “He believed in himself so much, where some of the players don’t because they get beaten down. … He was that guy that just kept it up: ‘I can do this. If you give me the opportunity, I’ll get to the big leagues.’ A lot of guys say that. He really did it.”
In early 2013, there was a joint workout for players seeking indy-league jobs at St. Petersburg’s Al Lang Stadium. (”Kind of full circle, huh?” Carminucci said.) He invited Peralta to drive over, set up a private session and threw to him in the batting cage, becoming further sold on the player and the person.
Carminucci started pushing his bosses to sign Peralta, and it became a matter of finding a spot for him. On July 3, 2013, the Diamondbacks finally did, signing Peralta (for no bonus, paying only $2,500 to the indy league to purchase his contract) and sending him, at 25, to Class A. He hit well there and continued to in spring training and when he started 2014 at Double-A.
On June 30, 2014 — 11 months after signing — Peralta made it to the majors.
And soon made it big.
He hit .300 or better twice, posted 30 homers and 87 RBIs in 2018, won Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards, signed a three-year, $22 million contract, got a cool nickname — “Freight Train” — and accompanying T-shirts, and was traded as a veteran pennant-race rental.
“He’s the reason why, in this game, we shouldn’t ever give up on guys, because guys still do get missed, guys still bloom late,” Carminucci said. “He’s a living testament to that.”
Peralta, 35 next week, appreciates that his story of perseverance can be motivating and inspirational, and is always willing to share.
“It’s like a lesson to everyone that you can never give up on your dream,” he said. “For my whole career, I just wanted to be a big-leaguer. I wanted to be in the big leagues. I made the decision to be a big-leaguer as a pitcher, but it didn’t work for me. But I never stopped following my dream.”
At times — actually, “like over a million times,” Peralta jokes — he reminds himself of his improbable journey by watching the video of his first big-league hit, a single in the second at-bat of his debut.
“I have it on my phone, on my social media, everywhere,” he said. “That’s always a good reminder of where I came from and what it takes you to get there.”
• • •
Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.