The Freight Train

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

David Peralta says the D-backs are on track for a championship

Standing at his locker in the Salt River Fields clubhouse, Arizona Diamondbacks’ outfielder David Peralta smiles as he prepares for an interview. He’s unaware two players – pitchers Andrew Chafin and Zack Godley – are about to jump in.

“Oh boy,” the North Valley resident says as Godley sticks a mic in his face while Chafin handles video duties. 

“Hi Choo Choo,” Godley says poker-faced. “How do you like being called ‘Choo Choo’ instead of ‘Freight Train’?”

Peralta is a favorite around the clubhouse, especially among fellow Venezuelans Eduardo Escobar, Wilmer Flores and Ildemaro Vargas. Some even say the 31-year-old is the new face of the Arizona Diamondbacks, as one of the veteran players.

“Everybody keeps telling me that,” Peralta says with a laugh. “It’s making me feel old. We have some other guys who have been around the same time. It’s just time to step up.

“We’ve been together a long time. It’s time for me to help the young talent and keep everyone happy. Everything starts here in the clubhouse. I need to create a family room, so we can all be together. We’re going to go through good times and bad times. That’s when we need to stick together. It’s going to be a great year. I have a good feeling.”

Fresh start

The Diamondbacks are getting a fresh start this year, after the departures of Paul Goldschmidt, Patrick Corbin, A.J. Pollock and others. 

Fresh starts are nothing new to Peralta.

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. 

 “The toughest part was having to leave my country to come here to a new situation,” he says. “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.”

Fandom

Peralta is becoming a collectible for the second time, when the D-backs give the first 20,0000 fans entering on June 22 a #FreightTrain bobblehead. Reportedly, it will make a sound.

“I’m really excited,” Peralta says as his eyes light up. “I had my first one in 2016 and I couldn’t enjoy it because I was hurt. I’m excited about it this year. I hear it’s going to have some sort of noise thing. I’m happy and hopeful it comes out really well.”

He admits he has a bobblehead in his North Valley home, where he lives with his wife, Jordan, and 18-month-old daughter, Sofia. The couple snuck away for a bit in the off season to the Dominican Republic for a long weekend. 

That was important to Peralta; so was his visit to Venezuela, where he visited with his family alone. Venezuela is a country in disarray. 

President Nicolas Maduro was re-elected in May 2018, but coercion and vote rigging were suspected. When he was inaugurated in January, his new term was considered illegitimate by countries like the United States and Canada. 

Maduro recently said, “I am the only president of Venezuela. We do not want to return to the 20th century of gringo interventions and coups d’état.” 

Violence, hunger and food shortages are widespread. Reports have said 80 percent of Venezuelan households do not have sufficient access to food. The health system has collapsed, and more than 3 million people have fled Venezuela since 2014.

“It’s tough,” Peralta says. “I have to leave my personal problems in the clubhouse, though. When I step on the field, I have to concentrate and do my job. If I bring my problems with me, I’m not going to be the player I want to be and know I can be. 

“It’s hard because my family’s hurt. I have to deal with that every day. I can only control what I can control. The only thing we can do is hope – hope that everything’s going to get better. I pray every day and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”

Ultimate D-backs wish

Peralta has already visualized his wish for the 2019 baseball season. The home opener is Friday, April 5, against the Boston Red Sox.

“Every year, the goal is the same – to go to the World Series and win the World Series,” he says. “This year, it’s not going to change. We have new guys. We have new people. We have young talent. We have so much talent here in this room. I’m really excited about it. 

“We’re ready to do our best every day and we’re going to do it as a team.”

Peralta stresses the word “team” – and that’s the current team. Not last year’s. 

“The thing I will say is it’s not about one player,” he says. “Whoever’s not here, good luck wherever they’re going to go. We’re just going to care about who’s around here, in this clubhouse. We have to do it as a team.

“Outsiders can say whatever they want. I believe in what we have here.”  

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