Peralta embracing fresh start with Cardinals
Veteran shortstop greets new teammates as he focuses on future in St. Louis
JUPITER, Fla. -- After the throng of media members had dispersed, their questions about his past suspension and future redemption sufficiently answered, Jhonny Peralta sat back down on the stool in front of his locker.
He had arrived four days before his required report date with the intention of assimilating into a new clubhouse and introducing himself separate from the Biogenesis label. Peralta hoped that a clean slate would await him.
Affirmation that one does came almost immediately after the questions stopped.
Adam Wainwright, who had been sitting at a nearby table eating breakfast, headed Peralta's way. He greeted him first with a hug, then looked Peralta in the eye. "Thrilled you're here," Wainwright told his new teammate.
Peralta knows the jeers still await him in out-of-town ballparks, but inside the Cardinals' clubhouse, he is being welcomed by Wainwright and others with the promise of an unblemished second chance. It's mutually beneficial, of course.
Peralta, having served a 50-game suspension in 2013 for his connection to Biogenesis, gets the fresh start he seeks. The Cardinals, in turn, get the shortstop stability that has been absent since the days of David Eckstein. A position of recent weakness will now be filled by a player considered among the best offensively at his position.
For now, though, he is simply one of 58.
"Just like everyone else," manager Mike Matheny said of how Peralta will be viewed in camp. "He's here early, obviously, and that's exciting to see. I don't think his excuse is the snow, either. I think he just wanted to be here and get with his team and we're anxious to kind of let him feel his way through this and build those relationships."
Peralta arrived in Jupiter, Fla., by way of signing a four-year, $53-million contract in November. The deal was not only the largest the Cardinals have ever given a free agent coming from outside the organization, but it offers the Cardinals the chance to boast of more than a mere stopgap at short.
The Cardinals have had seven different Opening Day shortstops since 2007. Peralta is poised to be the eighth in eight years. He is also in position to put a halt on the yearly turnover trend.
"We have had a lot of turnover, and it's one of the things we have thought a lot about in the Draft, but we just haven't gotten to the point that we have been able to have that everyday shortstop come up through the system," general manager John Mozeliak said. "I think Peralta is different in the sense of, from a defensive standpoint, we look at him as a consistent everyday-type player. From an offensive standpoint, he's one of the elite shortstops in the game.
"You combine that with other parts of our roster and we see him fitting quite nicely. Whether that's for two years, three years or four years, at this point, we just need it now. I do think he sees this as a challenge, and I do think he's up for it."
While Peralta hopes that his baseball abilities -- not his previous link to Biogenesis, the Florida anti-aging clinic -- will soon take precedence, he is also prepared for the ongoing ramifications of his transgression. He does not plan to address his new team in whole to seek forgiveness (which Matheny says Peralta already has), but will answer questions if asked. He wants to seize the opportunity for a new first impression.
Let everyone see who he is. Then they let them judge accordingly.
"I am trying to let them know what kind of person I am and everything," Peralta said. "A lot of guys don't know me, but I'm going to try to be family to everybody. I'm going to try to work hard here. ... I came here early so that I could talk to everybody and let them know what kind of person I am, too."
Peralta found immediate re-acceptance from his teammates in Detroit last September after serving his suspension. There is no indication that the situation will be any different in St. Louis. Even Matt Holliday, who has been among the game's most outspoken in eliminating performance-enhancing drugs from Major League Baseball, texted Peralta a welcome message after the Cardinals signed him.
Peralta knows that the reminders of his PED suspension will come on the field, mostly when playing in front of opposing fans. He faced the taunts during the three series -- one regular season, two postseason -- he played upon returning last season. It was, Peralta said, particularly bad in Boston.
"It was not easy to hear the fans and everything," Peralta said. "I tried to pay attention to the game and forget about what everyone was saying. ... I know a lot of fans, they're going to talk. They're going to say some things. But I need to forget about it and play baseball. That's it."
The Cardinals, who, too, are prepared to be scrutinized for their financial investment in Peralta, are asking for nothing more.
"Now, obviously, there is a new chapter for him and he's going to be wearing a new uniform," Mozeliak said. "From our standpoint, we want him to be part of this. There are going to be times where people are going to question it, and it's going to come up. But our hope is that he's going to address it, and we're going to move on."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.