When you’re a kid and you don’t know how badly the odds are stacked against you ever actually doing it, you dream about playing professional baseball. You see yourself on the same fields as your idols and making spectacular plays on ESPN, signing your name on baseballs, opening a pack of baseball cards to see yourself smiling back at you.
Once in a while, someone actually gets the chance to live that dream. Someone like Bryan Peterson.
In his second summer since graduating from West Valley High School, Peterson is an outfielder for Boston’s Class A Rookie League affiliate in Fort Myers, Fla., the Gulf Coast Red Sox.
“It’s my second summer here,” the 19-year-old said. “I love it. This is Rookie League ball, so we’re here early, we do our work and our games are at noon every day. I miss seeing my family and my friends, but I like it here.”
An 11th-round draft pick by the Red Sox a year ago, Peterson signed on June 19, 2008, and headed for Fort Myers, where he hit .277 in 38 games.
An injured muscle in his back from swimming kept him sidelined through the spring. Through his first eight games this season he’s batting .345 with six RBIs. In Tuesday’s game against the Baltimore Oriole’s entry, Peterson had three hits in four at-bats, scored twice and drove in a pair of runs while stealing three bases – easily his best game of the season thus far.
“I was able to get healthy in time for the start of the season here,” Peterson said. “When I first got here, it felt like the pitchers were throwing so much faster and so much better than what I was used to. Now that I’ve been here for a while, my game has caught up to them and I have a lot more confidence when I go up to the plate.”
A three-sport standout at West Valley, the scouting report on Peterson describes him as: a “powerful lefty bat with a broad frame. Great lift to his swing. Nice plate patience. Above average outfield arm, likely a corner OF in the pros. Above-average speed. Overall, an excellent athlete.”
Peterson has spent much of the past year in Florida, working out at the Red Sox spring training facility.
“I get a little homesick being so far from home,” he said. “It doesn’t look like my family is going to be able to get down here this summer to see me play. My brother and sister are both so busy that it’s really tough for them to get away. But I talk to my dad every day and I stay in touch with my friends.”
The contract Peterson signed a year ago includes money set aside to pay for four years of college whenever he’s ready to enroll. Short term, however, he’s concentrating on baseball 12 months of the year. Last winter the team sent him to the Dominican Republic for a special camp.
“We spend a lot of time talking about the way the Red Sox organization wants us to do things – things like the way they want us to approach hitting,” he said.
“One of the biggest changes for me was the way they want us to play the outfield. They like for us to be on the move with every play, backing up the play at every base. That’s not something we did back in high school.”
Another change has been his concentration on playing the outfield. Peterson also pitched throughout his high school career.
“I do kind of miss pitching, but I’m happy to just concentrate on my hitting and being an everyday player,” he said. “There’s a lot to learn. Our coaches talk to us all the time about the pitchers we’re going to face and the way different teams like to approach pitching.
“The Orioles, for example, have the opposite approach from a lot of teams. Most teams like to start you off with a fastball. The Orioles are just as likely to start you off with a curveball or a changeup with the first pitch. You have to know that and understand that when you go up to the plate.”
Peterson has had the chance to taste the kind of pitching he will face as he moves up the ladder within the organization.
“We get pitchers from other, higher levels coming through here on rehab assignments,” he said. “They come in, throw a game or two and then move on. The biggest difference between the pitchers we see here every day and the guys from higher levels is the control they have. With some of the pitchers we see here, you don’t always know where the ball’s going to go. With those guys, they’re going to do a much better job of locating their pitch and you have to be aware of that.”
At the rate he’s hitting, Peterson could see a mid-season promotion, most likely to full-season Class A Greenville, S.C.
“If that happens, I’ll be thrilled,” he said. “But I’m not going to be disappointed if it doesn’t. I’m concentrating on going out there every day and doing the best I can to make myself a better player. I’m having a great time doing it – a bad day playing baseball is better than a good day doing just about anything else, right?”