VIERA, Fla. -- When Denard Span walked into the Nationals' clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium for the first time this spring and saw Brock Peterson, he had no idea about the road that his former Minor League teammate had traveled to get there.
Both drafted in 2002 by the Twins -- Span with the 20th overall pick, Peterson with the 1,450th -- the two spent much of their first three professional seasons together. Then, as Peterson put it, Span "took the fast track, and I took the slow lane."
While Span made it to the Majors with Minnesota in '08, Peterson stalled at Triple-A, was released at the end of '10 and played two seasons of independent ball. The Cardinals threw him a lifeline late in '12, just as Peterson was ready to retire to pursue a college degree, and he finally earned a cup of coffee with St. Louis last year.
Span, who lost track of Peterson in recent seasons, was surprised to find out what the 30-year-old had gone through before signing a Minor League deal with the Nationals this winter.
"That just shows his character, his work ethic and his will, to not give up on something that started a long time ago," Span said.
Peterson will need all of that in his effort to author a second -- and more productive -- chapter to his big league story.
For as long as Peterson waited to reach the Majors, 11 years after he was drafted, the reality didn't quite live up to the dream. Sure, the callup was exciting, the "biggest accomplishment" of Peterson's career, and came in the midst of the Cardinals' pennant run. The good food and the rest of the perks that go along with it were nice as well.
But during a season in which he hit .296/.364/.531 with 25 home runs at Triple-A Memphis, the right-handed slugger went a mere 2-for-26 (.077) over two stints with St. Louis, going without an extra-base hit and striking out 11 times. Only three of his 23 games were starts, and when he played, he found it difficult to stay relaxed.
"It was a little bit, just because it had kind of become almost unattainable," Peterson said. "So when it happened, it maybe was a little bit bigger deal than it should have been for me.
"It was just kind of exciting and wanting it too bad, and then I almost put too much pressure on myself."
Peterson's struggles served as an anticlimactic end to an almost too-good-to-be-true story. Twice, he nearly gave up baseball before friends convinced him to keep at it. In 2011, he didn't play until June, when he joined the Bridgeport (Conn.) Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League.
He came back the next season, but in August he was about ready to give up baseball for school. His original contract with the Twins, signed out of high school, stipulated that the organization would pay for him to go to college if he did so within two years of leaving affiliated baseball. But the day Peterson was going to register for his classes with the University of Phoenix, he got a call and signed with the Cardinals.
"It is a crazy game," Span said. "You never know. That's why you keep playing. Some guys click a little bit later than others and you see a lot of guys that are late bloomers and so you just never know in this game. That's why you keep playing and keep trying to learn and get better, because at any given point, you could put it together."
A free agent again this offseason, Peterson had contact with multiple teams, but chose to sign with the Nats, taking into consideration the opportunities available and the club's potential as a contender.
As a non-roster invitee to big league camp, it's far from certain that Peterson will get a shot to play in Washington. But if he does, he's confident things will go better now that he has the experience of coming up once before. After a winter spent reflecting on what it takes to succeed at the highest level and how to cope with the big stage, Peterson said he is ready for his second chance.
"I definitely think it will be different, just because I've been there before, I've done it," he said. "Just to be able to stay calm and stay within my own game a little better, and it won't be so much of a story anymore. Last year it was kind of a big story, that I waited 11 years, and people kind of made a big deal out of it. So I think it'll just be easier to be myself and play my own game."