Brock Peterson is one of two Memphis players selected to play in the Triple A All-Star game. (Photo by Allison Rhoades, Memphis Redbirds)
By Rob Rains
UPDATE: The Cardinals on Saturday placed outfielder Matt Holliday on the disabled list and purchased the contract of Brock Peterson from Memphis.
Brock Peterson’s trip to play in the Triple A All-Star game next week (update: it was last Wednesday) will vividly illustrate how far his baseball career has come in the past year.
One of two members of the Cardinals’ Memphis farm team selected to represent the Pacific Coast League for the July 17 game in Reno, Nevada, along with pitcher Michael Wacha, Peterson doesn’t have to think too hard to remember how far away he was from that honor just 12 months ago.
Last July, Peterson was playing in the independent Atlantic League, and the clubhouse of the Bridgeport Bluefish actually doubled as his apartment. His bedroom was a storage closet, which he shared with four of his teammates.
“There were 11 of us that lived in the clubhouse,” Peterson said Monday by telephone from Memphis. “They didn’t have enough host families for us and there really weren’t apartments for us to rent. Some of the guys would sleep in the suites. I had a little storage closet where me and four other guys set up cots and air mattresses.
“It’s not ideal but it actually was a lot of fun to be around the guys. It was a different experience that not a lot of other guys have had.”
Part of the experience included the animals that Peterson and his teammates saw in the clubhouse and around the stadium.
“We had skunks in there,” he said. “We had quite a few critters roaming around that stadium. It wasn’t the cleanest place.”
Peterson, now 29, is grateful for his independent ball experience, however, because it renewed his faith in baseball after some disappointing times during the eight years he played in the Minnesota organization.
After being released by the Twins following the 2010 season, Peterson did not sign with the Bridgeport team until June of 2011.
“I was away from the game for a couple of months, and that gives you a different perspective on everything,” Peterson said. “I was kind of over baseball, and then I had a couple of buddies talk me into playing Indy ball. Basically I was just bored at home so I said, ‘yeah, I’ll go play.’
“In 2012 it was really the same thing. A couple of days before the Indy ball season started three of my best friends got released from affiliated teams and signed with Bridgeport. It was just like ‘I’ll come hang out with you guys for the summer and have a good time.’”
It did not surprise Peterson that he had a good time, or that be played well, making the All-Star team. What was surprising was when he got word in August that the Cardinals wanted to sign him and send him to Triple A.
“I had been playing pretty well for about three months straight and one day when I came to the field my manager gave me a phone number and said, ‘Call this number. The Cardinals want to sign you and send you to Triple A.’ I was pretty shocked. When I called the Cardinals they said they wanted to sign me to a two-year deal so I could come back this year, and that was even more of a surprise. Everything has worked out pretty well.”
After playing the final 21 games of last season for the Redbirds, hitting five homers and driving in 16 runs, Peterson has put together outstanding numbers in the first half of this season, playing all but one game at first base.
He leads the PCL with 20 homers, is third in RBIs with 63 (in 86 games), is tied for first in extra-base hits. He is tied with teammate Kolten Wong for the best batting average on the Redbirds at .306 and has posted a .325 average against left-handers.
“I made a few adjustments over the last couple of years in Indy ball with my swing and my approach,” Peterson said. “I don’t consider myself even the same kind of player as I used to be. I’ve kind of come into my own and figured out what I am supposed to do on the field. I really believe in what I am trying to accomplish.
“It’s a combination of getting order and having more experience and actually believing in what I am trying to do.”
Peterson was originally a 49th round draft pick of the Twins from a small high school in Washington state in 2002, the 1,450th player selected in the draft that year. He played his first game in rookie ball the following season, beginning a journey that has now seen him play more than 1,150 games in the minor leagues, counting his two seasons in independent ball.
“I still remember my first rookie ball game like it was yesterday, but when I start thinking about the whole thing it seems like a pretty long time,” Peterson said. “I don’t really regret anything that has happened in my career.”
Peterson went to the Twins’ major-league spring training camp twice, in 2009 and 2010, but each time was sent back to Triple A.
“There were about four years straight where I thought I should have been one of the guys called up,” he said. “I had an unlucky break in 2007 when I had shoulder surgery at the end of the year. That kind of pushed back some things, but there definitely were times where I thought I should have been the guy called up and I just got looked over for some reason.
“I didn’t really like baseball too much at that time because I was kind of starting to realize the politics of it, and starting to understand what really matters to some of these organizations and I don’t think it’s always winning.
“But being away from the game, and finding myself again, I love the game now more than I ever have.”
Peterson has paid attention to what the major-league Cardinals have done so far this year, and he realizes the team has a need for a right-handed hitter with some power who can come off the bench. He would like to think he has a shot for a promotion sometime between now and the end of the season.
“I try to not think too much about what is going to happen with me,” he said. “I really just try to show up and play the games here and kind of be in the now. I don’t really think about the past or the future too much. I focus on what I need to accomplish here on any given day.
“It would be nice for them to make that move, but it’s not my decision. If it happens it does, but if it doesn’t I will be happy with what I’ve accomplished here this year. I have a couple of more months to stay focused and try to finish this thing out strong.”
Peterson believes – other than the living conditions – he is basically in the same position now that he was a year ago.
“At the point of the year when I got signed (by the Cardinals) I didn’t really expect anything to happen,” he said. “I was just showing up and trying to help our team make the playoffs. I didn’t think about getting signed. I feel like if you focus on what you are trying to do at that moment and do your job, good things will happen.”
Peterson doesn’t know how he would react to the word of a big-league promotion, but he does know how special it would be.
“It will mean a lot more to me now than it would have back then (with the Twins,” he said. “I think I am more ready now than I was back then.”
One certainty for Peterson is that he is definitely going to enjoy his trip to the PCL All-Star game, the first time he has made an All-Star team in affiliated ball since he played in the Midwest League in 2004. He is going to have a good collection of family and friends on hand.
“I think they get more excited about it sometimes than I do,” Peterson said. “But it means more to me now, in the fact of where I came from the last couple of years. Baseball as a while means more to me now than it used to.”