Peralta, 40, says making and then staying in the majors is his career highlight.
So there’s Joel Peralta, circling the Mariners clubhouse on a scooter, wearing a Donald Trump wig as teammates chuckle. A cursory glance would suggest that, in Peralta’s mind at least, adulthood is still light years away.
The thing of it is, the middle reliever has spent more time as a grownup than anyone on the Mariners roster. That scooter scene took place March 23 — when Peralta turned 40.
“I’m always making fun of him,” 23-year-old pitcher Taijuan Walker said of Peralta. “I call him ‘old man’ all the time.”
Peralta isn’t the oldest player in MLB (the Mets, Marlins, Red Sox and Blue Jays each have someone 41 or older), but he may have the most emotional wear and tear. The Dominican didn’t make his big-league debut until he was 29, and since then, has spent time in the minors in eight different seasons.
You get the feeling that, these days, his pen won’t go near a lease that isn’t month-to-month. But despite all that bouncing around, Peralta always bounces back.
“I never thought my career would go this long. I’m blessed by God,” said Peralta, who in two innings of relief this year has struck out two without allowing a run. “But I tell people that if I’m healthy, I know how to pitch.”
Peralta didn’t always know how to pitch, though — at least not on a level suggesting he’d have a future on the mound. He was an outfielder when he signed with the A’s in 1996, but struggled in the 52 games he played for them in the Dominican Summer League.
Two years later, however, the Angels signed him and converted him to a pitcher. The rest, as they say, is … geography.
No, really — Peralta has been everywhere. He was in Butte, then Boise, then Cedar Rapids. He was in Arkansas, then Salt Lake, then Rancho Cucamonga. He was cemented in the Angels’ farm system for six years, bumbling on buses throughout the country.
And not once did he think about quitting.
It’s easy to wonder if Peralta’s ascent to the majors would have been quicker had he started out as a pitcher. Joel, on the other hand, wonders if he would have been out of the big leagues by now had that been the case. The struggle, after all, is what makes him appreciate the show in ways wunderkinds can’t.
What’s been the highlight of your career? Peralta is asked.
“Making it to the big leagues and staying here,” said Peralta, who has played for seven different organizations. “My whole career has been a highlight.”
Peralta doesn’t own any championship jewelry, but he did pitch in the playoffs with the Rays in 2011 and 2013. In fact, in 2013, he led all of MLB in games pitched with 80. It was as though the universe was comping him for all the times he was denied a chance to step onto a big-league mound.
And now? He doesn’t plan on stepping off.
Asked how long he plans to keep playing major-league ball, Peralta said “until they tell me I can’t do it anymore.” And if there’s any extra incentive, his wife told him she wants him to pitch for another five years.
Considering he doesn’t rely on velocity (his repertoire is primarily split-fingers and breaking balls) it might not be out of the question. But for now, Peralta is just going to enjoy the time he has.
By the way, if you’re wondering what the aforementioned scooter looks like, think senior citizens at Safeway. Mariners pitcher Wade Miley was racking his brain for what to get Peralta for his 40th, then finally decided on Joel’s new set of wheels.
“It seemed like the right thing to do.”
Absolutely. Could lead to the best bullpen entrance in baseball, too.