Joel Peralta has faced adversity
Rays reliever lied about his age as a kid in Dominican Republic
Before Rays reliever Joel Peralta was a Major League pitcher, he was a Minor League infielder. And before any of that he lied about his age. He had to, he said. That's just the way it was in the Dominican Republic back then if you wanted to play pro ball.
"In those days, they don't sign guys over there at 20 to play ball," Peralta said. "They don't give us a chance like here [in the United States]. Here, they even draft guys that are 23, 24 years old, guys who went to college and have a chance to play in the big leagues.
"We don't have that chance then so we have to lie about it. They wouldn't even sign you to play in the Summer League in the Dominican."
Meanwhile, Major League scouts were signing 16-year-old international players, 17- and 18-year-old American high school players and collegians.
Peralta was 20 in 1996 when he got a tryout with the Athletics as a shortstop. He said he was 16. People introduced him to men who produced birth certificates that looked real. His said he was born March 23 (which was true), 1980 (which was not).
"Everybody lied about their age and the scouts knew it ... so I didn't feel bad at all," Peralta said. "(Getting signed) was the only reason I did it."
Oakland released him just before what would have been his second season in its Dominican summer program. Peralta returned to Bonao, his hometown.
"I wasn't thinking about signing again or even trying out," he said. "I was playing amateur baseball for fun, and a friend of mine [Fausto Mejia] was the manager."
Mejia also was a buscon, Spanish for "searcher" or "finder" (although there more pejorative definitions). It's an unlicensed, unaffiliated scout who also acts as an agent, often housing and feeding Dominican teens, hoping to unearth the next Pedro Martinez or Robinson Cano and sell him to the highest big league bidder.
"I was playing third base [for Mejia] and we ran out of pitchers," Peralta said. "So he asked me to throw two innings. I did, and I threw really good. He told me, 'I think you should pitch,' that maybe it would give me a chance to sign again. I told him, 'Let's try it.'"
He got a tryout with the Angels, split 2000 between Rookie League Butte and Class-A Boise, and an impressive 2001 at higher Class A Cedar Rapids earned him a promotion to Double-A Arkansas.
But following that season, in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Danny Almonte Little League scandal, the U.S. government and Major League Baseball began scrutinizing players' documents more closely. It was announced in March 2002 that more than 100 players, Peralta among them, were older than advertised.
"After the age business got cleared up, [the Angels] decided to keep me," Peralta said. "I guess they saw something in me."
He made it to the Majors with them in 2005, spent time with the Royals, Rockies and Nationals over the next five years and signed a free-agent contract with the Rays before the 2011 season.
This past June 19 at Washington, when pine tar was found on his glove, Peralta was ejected and suspended for eight games. Rays manager Joe Maddon said using pine tar "is common knowledge" with every team. And as far as the players are concerned, he said, "everybody's OK with it."
It sounded a bit like Peralta's "everybody lied about their age and the scouts knew it" explanation. Not at all, Peralta said.
"The age thing was different because it was the only way I could play the game," he said. "If I could turn the clock back to those days and have to do it again, I would do it again.
"About the pine tar thing, it seems like 80, 85 percent of the pitchers do it. But it's not something you need to do to be able to play the game. So, no, I wouldn't do it."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.