NEW YORK — In his long, winding journey from a 41st-round draft-and-follow pick in 2006 to major league starter, Brad Peacock has made a lot of stops.
He’s gone from Melbourne, Fla., and the Gulf Coast League, to Single-A Hagerstown, Single-A Vermont, back to Hagerstown, down to Single-A Potomac, up into Pennsylvania with Double-A Harrisburg and then to upstate New York with Triple-A Syracuse.
At each stop along the way, Jerry Peacock has pulled up his lawnmower trailer, hitched onto the back of his van, and watched his son.
Jerry, a retired police officer, hasn’t missed many of Brad’s starts, often spending his nights sleeping in the trailer in the parking lots of minor league ballparks and Wal-Marts. He’s there to watch, for support and to stay connected to his son. Each start, when Brad finishes throwing his warm-up pitches in the bullpen, he looks up and tosses the ball to his dad.
“At some point I started writing on them,” Jerry said of the tradition that dates back to Brad’s days at Palm Beach Community College, his next stop after a brief stint as a high school pitcher.
“I put on there the date, who they played, what his stats were for that game.”
He didn’t get a chance to catch the ball when Brad made his major league debut, coming in mid-inning to relieve Doug Slaten the way he did. He retrieved the warm-up ball later but has a tinge of regret in his voice when he admits, “It was a little rushed.”
But on a warm September Wednesday in New York, Jerry’s sole focus when he entered Citi Field was getting to the seats by the bullpen. In less than an hour, his son - the one who used to sleep with his baseball bat and lay in bed tossing a ball into the air until he fell asleep, was a major league starter against the New York Mets.
“I didn’t get that ball,” he said of Brad’s debut. “I’m getting it tonight.”
“I think, tonight, when he throws me that ball, now I know that he’s home,” Jerry said, his blue eyes trying their best not to well with tears. “Now he’s got to stay home.”
Around the Nationals, it’s difficult to find anyone who isn’t excited about the future of Jerry’s son. Their good fortune in plucking the former third baseman out of high school in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 2006 alone is reason enough to be excited. Add in his live arm that gets clocked in the mid-90s, his sterling performance this season in both Double-A and Triple-A that earned him the Nationals’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year award, and there’s no question he’s one of their most heralded prospects.
“He’s just got electric stuff,” his Triple-A manager Randy Knorr said.
Peacock’s debut was something of a mess - asked to come in mid-inning as a reliever with two men on base and triple-crown threat Matt Kemp at the plate against the Los Angeles Dodgers last week.
“He’s faced one of the toughest hitters in the league and did all right,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. “This [start] will probably be a breeze.”
The result, Jerry said, is of little importance to him. His son is a major leaguer.
“We were at our family’s house in Pennsylvania, and we were just fixing to eat when Brad called,” Jerry said. “He said, ‘Dad, I’m going up. I got pulled up!’ That’s when I wanted to be with him, when he got that call.
“I’m not a big baseball buff. I don’t really know what it takes. I didn’t really think much about pro ball; I thought about college and getting an education. … Was he a good student? Yes. Was he brilliant? Only when he wanted to be.”
The first pitch of Peacock’s first major league start was fired off at 7:20 p.m. to Jose Reyes, 21 minutes after his last warm-up toss landed in Jerry’s hands.