By Scott Eddy, Director of Athletics Communications
It was the type of call that any kid who ever worn a glove dreams of receiving.
And yet for a few moments after picking up the phone, Cole Peterson couldn't believe the words.
"I was contacted by our minor league farm director Dave Owen and he asked how I would feel about catching an early bus to Tampa to play the Yankees," Peterson remembers of the call he received last week. "My reaction was yes, of course, that would be awesome; but at the same time I couldn't believe I just got the call to head to a big league game."
Less than a year into his professional career, the St. Bonaventure baseball product earned the opportunity to join the Detroit Tigers in a spring training game vs. the New York Yankees March 12 at George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.
Though he suited up for the Tigers that day, there was no guarantee he would see the field during the game. But in the seventh inning, he got the nod to pinch hit against Yankees All-Star reliever David Robertson. Peterson would hit into a ground out against Robertson, but remained in the game to play shortstop.
"Honestly I can't explain it," he says. "It was an incredible experience that I'll never forget the rest of my life. My first time on defense the three batters that came up for the Yanks were Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez. I was just watching these guys on TV months ago and here I was getting the opportunity of a lifetime to be on the same field as them. It was truly a memorable time and hard to put into words."
A lot has happened for Peterson since he last donned the Brown and White.
St. Bonaventure head coach Larry Sudbrook is quick to call Peterson the best defensive shortstop he's had in his 30-plus years at the helm of the program. Fans who watched the Johnsonburg, Pa., native would have a hard time disagreeing.
"We have had a couple other shortstops get the chance to play professionally," Sudbrook said, "but defensively Cole was heads and tails above anyone else we've had."
Perhaps the slickest shortstop in the region and one of the best in the nation during his time with the Bonnies, Peterson was a two-time All-Atlantic 10 selection and earned first team honors last spring. He hit .301 for his career with a .382 on-base percentage, posting a .335 batting average and .409 on-base mark for career highs last season.
Following his junior year, it was little question of if he would be drafted but where. It would be the Detroit Tigers who came calling in the 13th round of the Major League Baseball Draft in June, giving Peterson the chance to play professionally. From there he was assigned to the Connecticut Tigers, the short season New York-Penn League affiliate of Detroit.
Before his call to don the major league colors it had already been a memorable spring for Peterson.
Earlier this month he received Connecticut Tigers Player of the Year honors for his play last summer. The recognition came as further proof of his defensive prowess – Peterson gained traction at the plate as the season wore on, lifting his batting average to .246 at season's end, but he posted a .974 fielding percentage while helping turn 33 double plays.
"I couldn't have asked for a better first professional season," he says. "I got to play with a lot of college guys that just got drafted like me that went to big name schools like Washington, Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Nevada."
"It shows what a superlative defender he is, facing professional pitching for the first time, that he wins the Most Valuable Player," Sudbrook emphasized of Peterson's play. "He can flat out defend."
Like with all players playing professionally for the first time, the adjustment to playing every day was one to grow accustomed to. After already playing a full spring for the Bonnies, it was right off to Connecticut where Peterson played 55 more games before Labor Day.
"The adjustment was the daily grind, whereas in college we played Tuesdays and then the weekend," he said. "In the minors you play every day and then unlike college, when you travel, you travel throughout the night and the next day you have a game again. You just have to grind day-in and day-out no matter how good or bad you are doing and always work on your strengths and also weaknesses every day."
Though Peterson has only seen action in one major league spring training game so far, he's received the invite to travel with the club for three games.
As he continues to put himself on the Tigers organizational radar, Peterson says he's putting to use the lessons learned while with the Bonnies to move forward as a professional.
"I can always get better and had the ability at Bonaventure to do that. Every day when I practiced I was always trying to work on something and not just going to practice to 'just be there,'" he says. "Everything I did at Bonaventure helped me transition to the minor leagues. Bonaventure baseball, Coach Sudbrook and Salerno will always hold a special place in my heart because they allowed me to become a D-I baseball player which was a dream of mine since I was a little kid. They allowed me to become a better player and be exposed to major league scouts. I couldn't be more thankful."
Once spring training comes to a close, Peterson will be assigned to one of the Tigers minor league affiliates for his first full season in affiliated baseball. While he is not sure where his assignment will be, the next rung on the ladder would be the Tigers' full-season 'A' affiliate in West Michigan. The Tigers also have a Class A advanced team in Lakeland, Fla., a Double-A squad in Erie, Pa., and Triple-A team in Toledo, Ohio as the climb up the organizational ladder continues.
Wherever that next step may be, Peterson will continue to use the work ethic that first gave him tremendous success at St. Bonaventure to move forward toward his dream of reaching the major leagues for good.
"My goal for this season is to just improve on my first pro season and become an all-around better player," he said. "I can always get better every single day."
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