D.J. Peterson will be home from college soon, and little brother Dustin will be there waiting with a smile on his face and a paddle in his hand.
The former Gilbert High baseball stars have dreams of playing in the big leagues one day — maybe even on the same team — and the first step will be realized when they get chosen in this week’s MLB draft.
But until the professional contracts are signed, they will be at home in Gilbert, which will inevitably lead to the the return of their legendary table tennis tussles.
“We’re competitive in everything, but especially in Ping Pong,” Dustin said. “We get pretty active over there.”
The table sits in the family living room, and when the competition hits full throttle, it’s high-level stuff. By the end, the Petersons are sweating profusely.
D.J. is quick to point out who reigns supreme.
“I don’t think he’s ever beaten me,” D.J. said. “It goes me, my dad, and then him.”
It’s a delightfully simplistic activity for D.J. and Dustin, something which brothers across the country can relate to.
When it comes to baseball, though, the Petersons are not your average siblings.
D.J. wrapped up his junior season at New Mexico over the weekend, finishing the year with a .408 average, 18 homers, 72 RBIs and a 1.327 on-base-plus-slugging-percentage; some of the best numbers in all of college baseball. He’s going to be drafted in the first round on Thursday, likely somewhere between No. 10 and No. 15 overall.
Dustin hit .540 with 10 home runs, 39 RBIs and a 1.732 OPS this year as a senior with the Tigers. He’s projected to be a second-round pick, but if a team becomes enamored, he could sneak into the first round.
If that happens, the Petersons will join J.D. and Tim Drew (1997) as the only pair of brothers to ever get drafted in the first round in the same year. They would also join an illustrious list of siblings who have been drafted in the first round regardless of year, which includes the Uptons (Justin and B.J.), the Weavers (Jeff and Jered), the Weeks (Rickie and Jemile) and the Drews (Tim, J.D. and Stephen).
D.J. and Dustin could be playing ping pong on Wednesday and making history on Thursday.
“Is this really happening?” said Missy Peterson, D.J. and Dustin’s mom. “People are coming up to you saying, ‘You’ve got two kids that are going to be drafted in the same year?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ It was crazy during the season and now it’s reality.”
The baseball journey began with each boy in diapers.
Their father, Doug, played at Mesa Community College after high school but his career soon fizzled out.
His goal from the get-go was to give D.J. and Dustin enough guidance so they could get baseball scholarships to a four-year university and earn their degrees, and Doug used a variety of methods to hone his sons’ offensive skills.
He started throwing whiffle balls to them at a young age, but the toddlers would instinctively swing too quickly when he tried tossing underhand.
“They couldn’t wait on it,” Doug said. “They were swinging when the ball was barely out of my hand. I kept trying to throw it a little bit faster underhand, but they were still too early. So I thought, ‘OK, I’ll try (overhand).’ I’m pretty accurate. I’ve been throwing batting practice for 100 years. So I was throwing these whiffle balls with a little zip on them, and ‘crack, crack, crack,’ they were hitting them.”
D.J. and Dustin mastered the whiffle balls, so Doug continued to shrink the object they were hitting. Next came golf-sized whiffle balls, then lima beans and peas. No longer was he worried about pegging his young sons — the brothers became so proficient that his own safety was at stake.
“I’d have to put on glasses because they’d hit me in the face with the lima beans,” said Doug as an amused Dustin listened on.
The paths to the top of the draft were a bit different for the Petersons.
D.J. had a monster junior season at Gilbert to put himself on the map, but didn’t do as well as a senior and fell to the 33rd round of the draft. He chose college over signing with the Seattle Mariners and excelled from the day he set foot on New Mexico’s campus.
He was the co-Mountain West Player of the Year as a sophomore, really turned heads with Team USA last summer and became one of the best players in the nation this year. He could become the highest-drafted player from the East Valley since Desert Vista’s Corey Myers went No. 4 overall to the Diamondbacks in 1999.
The tools were there for Dustin, but he didn’t completely fill out physically until this year. D.J’s success piqued scouts’ interest in Dustin — “They probably wondered, ‘Well, dang, that kid can swing the bat, I wonder if his little brother can,’” Dustin said — and he performed well in front of national scouts and general managers to vastly improve his stock.
“My senior year (at Gilbert) he was a sophomore on the team, and he was clearly good enough to be a starter on varsity, but I feel like he definitely came into that same category as D.J. his senior year,” said Arizona State catcher Nathaniel Causey, the Petersons’ cousin. “Now they’re both just unreal baseball players.”
The week leading up to the draft was much easier for D.J. He was concentrating on an NCAA Regional appearance with the Lobos at Cal State Fullerton while Dustin, despite draft preparations which included team workouts, had much more idle time. The Petersons were all in Calif. over the weekend, as New Mexico faced off with Dustin’s college choice, Arizona State, on Friday afternoon.
The brothers were invited to Secaucus, N.J. for Thursday’s live show, but instead will watch it at home with family and friends.
D.J. admits he will be a nervous wreck, not only anxious to see where he gets picked but to know where Dustin lands, too.
It’s a fair bet the duo plays a few games of ping pong to calm the nerves early in the day. After that, Dustin and D.J. will watch along with everyone else as their futures get mapped out on a national stage.
“I’m going to cry when I get picked, and I’ll probably cry when he gets picked,” D.J. said, “and I bet you he does the same.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.