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Peralta didn't let anything deter him from Majors

ST. View Full Game Coverage PETERSBURG -- Joel Peralta did the math when he played Little League baseball in Bonao, Monsenor Nouel, Dominican Republic.

"I was short and I came from a family of short people," Peralta said. "That told me I'm probably never going to be a professional baseball player. So I never thought I'd be a Major Leaguer."

Doubting the possibility never stopped Peralta from dreaming, though. Then Peralta saw Pedro Martinez burst onto the Major League scene.

"He wasn't a very big guy," Peralta said. "And I started thinking, 'Maybe.' I had always played the game because I loved it. But then I'm thinking, 'It could happen.'"

At one point, Peralta used a glove made from a cardboard box. He and his friends played with tennis balls or balls made out of socks because they didn't have baseballs. And a bat might be a two-by-four or a stick from the side of the road.

Nevertheless, nothing discouraged Peralta from following his dream to become a Major Leaguer.

"I was poor, but I wasn't in misery," Peralta said. "A lot of those kids, if you went right now where the projects are, you would see them with ripped shoes and some will be barefoot."

Peralta played baseball and watched Major League games on TV every chance he had. In addition to Martinez, Raul Mondesi of the Dodgers was a hero.

"So we watch a lot of the Dodgers when I was growing up," Peralta said. "And like I said, I fell in love watching Pedro pitch. I think he was one of the main reasons I wanted to pitch. Every time he was pitching, I tried to watch him pitch, because I would learn something from him."

Peralta continued to pursue his dreams, but he wasn't a pitcher in the beginning. Shortstop was his position, and he was good enough that the Athletics signed him.

"It wasn't that hard for me to sign with the A's and come to the United States," Peralta said. "But I didn't work as hard as I needed to work. It was easy for me to sign, but it was easy for me to get released, too, because I wasn't working hard and I wasn't good with the bat. I mean, I couldn't hit at all and I didn't take care of myself."

Fortunately for Peralta, pitchers do not need to hit.

"I got released [by the Athletics], and it wasn't something I planned," Peralta said. "One day, I'm released, and the next, I'm playing in an amateur tournament in the Dominican. My hometown, Bonao, we were getting beat. I'm playing third base in that game, so the eighth inning comes around and my manager, Fausto Mejia -- we call him 'Chiky' -- asks me if I want to pitch the last two innings. I'm like, 'Sure, I've been released and I'm playing for fun, why not?'"

Peralta took the mound and pitched two solid innings.

"After the game, a couple of guys approached me from the opposite team and told me I looked really good on the mound," Peralta said. "Then Chiky told me, 'You have to work really hard and I will help you. I think you have something going on with that arm.' He made me become a pitcher."

Unlike when he played shortstop, Peralta worked hard, and by 2005, he first reached the Majors with the Angels. The rest is history.

Peralta, 36, appreciates being in the Majors and knows how rabid his countrymen remain today about the sport.

"Even now, I see the fathers with their sons, they're trying to see if they can become a ballplayer," Peralta said. "It's the biggest sport in the Dominican. Everybody watches baseball. Everybody loves baseball."

Peralta and other Major Leaguers from Bonao, a list that includes former Rays pitcher Juan Cruz, try to do what they can during the summer to gather all the baseball supplies they can to take home to aid the baseball cause.

"I especially try and help the community back there, because I know they need me, and the fact that I can help them," Peralta said. "If I don't do it, I'm going to be miserable."

Peralta's efforts to help his hometown and the example he sets playing in the Major Leagues has the kids of that area looking up to the Rays right-hander.

"I have people tell me, 'My kids talk very highly about you, someday he said he want to be like you,'" Peralta said. "You hear something like that and it makes you want to try and do better every day."

Tampa Bay Rays, Joel Peralta