Writer Amanda Christmann
Photography Courtesy of Arizona Diamondbacks – Sarah Sachs

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or a franchise that only began in 1998, Arizona baseball fans have a long history of idolizing their stars. The Diamondbacks did plenty to earn adoration, bringing home the pennant in 2001, and players like Randy Johnson and Brandon Webb gave Chase Stadium fans plenty to revere, but today there’s a new player whose career trajectory seems to be following the same arc as another much-loved player: Luis Gonzalez.

Like Gonzo, David Peralta is at home in the outfield, but home plate at bat is where he really packs a punch. And, like Gonzo, who was born in Cuba, fans can’t get enough of the Latino powerhouse with a big grin and even bigger personality.

For his part, Peralta, who signed with the Diamondbacks for the 2014 season, has plenty of love to give back.

“For me, the Diamondbacks are really special because they are the team that gave me the opportunity to show who I am,” he says as he sits casually just outside of the team clubhouse a few hours before a matchup against the Dodgers.

That opportunity nearly didn’t arrive, but don’t tell that to the 6’1” Venezuela native whose skill and determination are only surpassed by his belief in himself.

For Peralta, it couldn’t have been any other way. After all, baseball is all he has ever known.

“I kind of grew up on the baseball field,” he says, leaning back comfortably in his chair. “I started playing baseball when I was two or three years old. I don’t remember, but my dad told me that he always used to keep me busy with baseball. Their support has been what’s helped me to be where I am now.”

Even 3,200 miles away, Peralta’s family continues to be his biggest fans.

“They come up once a year to see me play. In Venezuela though, they’re three hours ahead so it’s difficult for them to watch the games. They came opening week this year, and it was great to have them here.”

Diamondback fans likely can’t imagine Peralta anywhere but the outfield, but that hasn’t always been the case.

“In Venezuela, I loved to play outfield—left field,” he says. Scouts, however, had a different idea for the lefty. “They said, ‘For you to play in the big league, you’re going to have to be a pitcher.’” And so he took the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals as a 17-year-old southpaw with a fastball clocked in the low 90s. His future looked bright.

Then came the injuries. Two shoulder surgeries in four years sidelined the young player. When he returned from his second rehab for spring training, he was dealt the devastating blow that the Cardinals had lost interest.

At 21 years old, he was faced with a choice: work to become one of the most impressive comeback stories in the major leagues, or give up on the dream. Lucky for fans, he chose the former.

The choice was made following a heart-to-heart talk with his dad. “My dad told me to give it a try as an outfielder because that’s what I understood to do,” he says. It wasn’t so simple.

As a pitcher, he was relatively burly at 225 pounds. To be an outfielder, he would have to transform his body into a faster, leaner version. He worked out twice a day—baseball in the morning and strength and fitness training at night—and tightened up his diet. It paid off; he emerged at a lithe 215 pounds of muscle.

“I worked out. I worked hard every day,” he said.

He was also playing another angle. In 2008, while in rehab following his second surgery in Jupiter, Florida, Peralta and his friend went into a local bar. There, he took a liking to a cute, bubbly blond college softball player. The only problem was that he did not speak English.

“My friend was kind of my translator,” he says. “We were all hanging out and I started thinking, ‘I like this girl. I have to start learning English or I’m going to lose her.’ This is how I learned English,” he says with a laugh. “She helped me a lot.”

Eventually, that girl would walk with him through thick and thin and eventually become his wife. David and Jordan Peralta married in 2015, and on his birthday last year, became parents to baby Sophia.

Peralta’s comeback would prove to be tough for the young couple. He was working hard to prove himself, but no one seemed to be taking notice—yet.

It was the independent North American Baseball League, formed in 2011, that kept his dream alive. The Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings signed him, but the catch was that he had to drive from his home in Stuart, Florida to Harlingen, Texas to play.

With Jordan beginning a new teaching career and his own ambitions stalled, times were tough. He’d have to be creative to find gas money.

Enter McDonald’s.

Along the way, Peralta met a friend who was manager at the nearby golden arches. He asked him for a job, and his friend was happy to help. Peralta put on a completely different uniform and spent nights making French fries and working the drive-thru window.

Like the rest of his efforts, Peralta’s work paid off. By the time the 2011 season began, he’d saved enough to make the trip. The pay was bad and the days were long, but it was that hint of a chance that kept him going.

“I just kept telling myself I’ve got to give it everything I’ve got—100 percent,” he says. “I’m always making sure to give it my 100 percent because I believe things happen for a reason. I play every day like it’s the last day of life.”

Peralta slept on an air mattress to make his paltry independent league salary stretch far enough to keep his phone turned on.

“It was just a hard time,” he says with his trademark smile. “Hard times, they make you grow up as a man and as a person. They make you be better.”

Peralta’s face still fills with emotion when he talks about the break that eventually came.

In May 2014, Peralta was playing for the D-backs’ Double-A affiliate in Mobile, Alabama. The team was staying in a motel on the road, and well after midnight, Peralta heard a knock at his door. Sleepily, he answered.

On the other side of the door was team manager Andy Green with a grin as wide as the Grand Canyon.

“The Diamondbacks bought your contract!” he said. Overcome with emotion, Peralta fell onto the floor in fetal position and wept.

The rest, as they say, is history. At 30 years old, Peralta has hit a solid career batting average of .292. His OPS is .875 this year, and he recently struck his 50th home run despite being sidelined by a wrist injury suffered by a stray pitch in late April.

Moreover, though, he’s breathing new life into the Arizona bleachers. Fans love him for his playful sense of humor and his tenacity; it doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the best hitters in the league.

“It takes hard work and dedication, and if you do the right things, everything can come together,” says the Freight Train, a name given to him by Diamondbacks broadcaster Steve Berthiaume.

“Everything has changed a lot,” he adds. “I can’t believe I’m here, but this is what I’ve been working for.”