Gregorio Petit has spent 16 years waiting for his big break in baseball. He still believes it’s coming, which probably helps explain his crazy career.
“He’s about as positive a guy as you could ever have on a team,” said Gene Glynn, the Twins’ infield coach. “I guess he’d just about have to be.”
That’s because, while Major League Baseball can be glamorous and thrilling, Petit’s career is the dirt in its spikes. He’s like a substitute teacher, in love with his job but lacking a classroom to make his own. “I’m not a quitter. I’ll never be a quitter,” he says. “I can play this game at a high level. I just have to keep proving it again and again.”
It’s quite impressive, in a sport that considers a phenom old once he reaches 25, that Petit is wearing a Twins uniform today, 16 years after signing a contract as a teenager in Venezuela. Minnesota is the fifth franchise that has given the 33-year-old utility infielder a shot at major league playing time; just last week, the 10-year anniversary of his big-league debut passed.
And in the intervening decade? Petit has played for a different organization for nine consecutive seasons, with the Rangers, Indians, Padres, Astros, Yankees, Angels, Blue Jays and now Twins all giving him a look. He has suited up for more than 1,200 Class AAA games, for eight different Triple-A teams. With the exception of 2011, when a knee injury cost him the season and nearly his career, he has played at the Triple-A level every season since 2007.
“It’s harder to survive in the minor leagues, because there’s no room for you if you’re not playing good, because they’ve got to move up their prospects,” Petit said. “There’s always less and less room. If you don’t keep your game up, you’ll be out.”
His major league resume is much shorter: He was given a quick look by the A’s, the team that first signed him in 2003, in 2008 and 2009, but didn’t stick. Five years passed before he earned another call-up, this time with the Astros. “I consider that my second debut, and it meant more to me than my first one, just because of everything I overcame and how many people doubted me,” said Petit, who batted .278 in 37 games for the Astros.
When he didn’t make the team the following spring, the Astros traded him to the Yankees, who ping-ponged him between the majors and AAA several times, including five in a one-month stretch. “It was my first and only Opening Day in the majors,” Petit recalls with a smile. “And it was a dream come true for my dad, because he was always a Yankee fan in Venezuela.”
He batted just .167, though, and signed with the Angels the following winter. When Andrelton Simmons was injured, Petit played nearly every day for two months, the longest stretch of his career. But again, he was let go when the season ended.
“It’s disappointing, but I just played winter ball in Venezuela, and someone always invited me to camp,” he said. “I just love this game so much. I try not to let things I can’t control take over my thoughts. I enjoy every second of it.”
It can be a lonely life, though. When Petit and his wife Yessica started a family, they agreed that Houston would be their year-round base. That means that Petit saw his wife and three kids — his 8-year-old daughter Greysca, and his sons Benjamin, 6, and Sebastian, 2 — for a couple of weeks in spring training, but strictly only via phone calls and FaceTime since. Playing winter ball, in hopes of finding work, keeps him away much of the offseason, too.
Friday is the last day of school in Houston, “so I get to see them soon,” Petit said. “I make sure to give them quality time when we’re together. They’ve seen the entire United States, just following me around.”
His occasional stints in the majors are a godsend for the family budget, since he earns the major league minimum — $545,000, or roughly $3,000 a day — while he’s not in Triple-A.
“People say, ‘Why do you keep playing?’ It’s easy: Another year to enjoy what I love,” Petit said. “I’ve been blessed to play this long. I’d like to play until I’m 60.”
The AL Central’s mediocrity thus far in 2018 is fueled in part by some disappointing starts by players who were being counted upon as lineup or rotation cornerstones. Here’s a look at the slowest starts:
Indians: Jason Kipnis is a two-time All-Star, but he’s been terrible for two months now, batting .178 in April, and following up with .176 in May, and just one homer all year. Kipnis lost his No. 2 spot in the lineup on May 11, and with a .268 on-base percentage, he may be on the verge of losing his starting job completely.
Royals: Long ranked a Top 10 prospect, Cheslor Cuthbert appeared ready to take over third base full time in 2016, launching 12 homers at age 23. KC hoped he would replace some offense they lost with Lorenzo Cain and Eric Homer’s departures, but the results have been anemic: .194 with only two doubles and 7 RBI thus far.
Tigers: When they gave him $110 million over five years, the Tigers expected Jordan Zimmermann to be their ace. But the righthander — still owed $50 million after this year — has been a bust, hampered by injury and ineffectiveness. His 4.88 ERA is better than last year’s 6.08, but shoulder pain has shelved him all month.
White Sox: Outfielder Avisail Garcia had a breakthrough 2017, becoming an All-Star at age 26 and posting a .330 average and .885 OPS. But those numbers plunged in the season’s first month to .233 and .565; then a hamstring strain sidelined him until June. Now Chicago is questioning whether 2017 was an aberration.
Where have all the triples gone? The Twins, among the league leaders in triples over the past three seasons, have the fewest in baseball so far in 2018. Their total of three projects to a franchise-record low of just 11 all season.
Year Triples AL Rank
2015 44 3
2016 35 1
2017 31 4
2018* 3 15
* — Through Thursday