Comfort in the batter’s box at Isotopes Park was never a problem for D.J. Peterson.
As good a hitter as the University of New Mexico has ever had when he was crushing the seams off the ball as a Lobo from 2011 to 2013, Peterson racked up plenty of eye-popping stats in the stadium when it was still being shared by the Isotopes and the college team that now plays across this street.
But Tuesday night, in his debut with the Albuquerque Isotopes after getting signed as a free agent in the offseason, things were different as he walked from the on-deck circle toward home plate in the bottom of the third inning.
“Honestly, it was a lot of nerves,” Peterson said.
The 30-year-old former first round MLB draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2013 is trying to make a rather improbable baseball comeback of sorts in the city he says is his second home outside of his native Arizona.
Peterson slapped a single to center field in his first Albuquerque at-bat on Tuesday and an inning later launched a 418-foot, two-run homer to left field that flew off his bat at 106 miles per hour.
On Wednesday, he was 1-for-3 with a double, a walk and another run scored in the 7-6 Isotopes’ win over the Tacoma Rainiers – his former team.
“I’m excited to be here. I truly am,” Peterson said. “… My wife and I couldn’t be more excited.”
He hopes a return to Albuquerque can again set him en route to making a major league roster.
Adversity derailed what was once considered a “fast-track” path to the big leagues.
Peterson played parts of five seasons in the Mariners’ organizations, had Triple-A stops with the White Sox and Reds organizations, and then spent the last two years playing independent ball.
In a Single-A game in Iowa on Aug. 22, 2013, Peterson took a two-seam fastball to the face and had lingering effects from that for some time. He also fell in a trap of trying to become a power hitter he feels others wanted him to be rather than the contact hitter he was comfortable with his whole career.
He returned to baseball in 2014, and even hit 31 home runs split between two teams in the Mariners’ organization.
But, as he told the Athletic last year, that was a season that he can’t explain.
“Honestly, I don’t know how I did that,” Peterson said. “Because every single at-bat that year, I had this self-doubt going on, worried that I was going to get hit in the face again.”
Wednesday, Peterson further explained to the Journal that season looked good on paper, but changed what made him great.
“It was a great year, but that wasn’t who I was for the most part,” Peterson said.
Eventually, with the help of a sports psychologist, his family and some self-reflection, Peterson was able to regain his confidence at the plate.
“The adversity, I would say it was more self-inflicted,” Peterson said. “I went through the face injury – didn’t really have anyone to talk to over there. Finally went and got some help.”
A long relationship with the Rockies’ new Director of Player Development, Chris Forbes, helped land his latest opportunity.
Forbes was an area scout for the Rockies in 2013 and saw Peterson plenty that year with UNM when he hit .408 with 18 home runs, 72 RBIs and an unreal slugging percentage of .807.
The Rockies took pitcher Jon Gray No. 3 overall that season – two picks after Mark Appel went No. 1 overall to the Houston Astros and Kris Bryant, coincidentally signed this offseason by Colorado, went No. 2 to the Chicago Cubs. Peterson was drafted No. 12 by Seattle.
“If we were picking any later, he might have been our guy,” Forbes said. “I thought that year, he and Michael Conforto (Oregon State) were by far the two best college hitters that I had seen.”
Now, Peterson feels he can still make the majors.
“One hundred percent I believe it can happen,” he said. “But I’m not pressing for that. I’m just here to have fun. I want to help this Triple A team out. God’s given me this extra blessing. (if I make the big leagues), that’s just some more icing on top of my cake.”
‘TOPES THURSDAY: Vs. Tacoma
Isotopes Park, 6:35 p.m., 610 AM/95.9 FM
PROBABLES: Rainiers LHP Nick Margevicius (0-1, 11.57) vs. Isotopes RHP Matt Dennis (0-1, 4.91)
PROMOTION: It’s not an official one, but the team expects its 10 millionth fan in franchise history (since 2003) to enter the gates.
WEDNESDAY: Four Isotopes had multi-hit games and Albuquerque held off another late rally for its first home win of the season in a 7-6 victory over Tacoma.
CF Wynton Bernard was a home run away from a cycle and had three RBIs to lead the charge and starter Dillon Overton struck out nine over 5.0 innings of three run, five-hit pitching.