Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of stories about legendary Brenham baseball pitcher Jon Peters and his memoir, “When Life Grabs You by the Baseballs: Finding Happiness in Life’s Changeups.”
Jon Peters recently took his kids to a baseball game at his alma mater, Brenham High School.
Plenty of people approached Peters as they tend to do in Brenham. After all, he holds the national record for the high school pitcher who won the most consecutive games in a single season, ending his streak at 51-0.
As the family walked out of the stadium, 14-year-old Kylie turned to Peters and said, “Dad, you’re famous.”
Jake, 11, looked at his sister and quipped, “Kylie, come on, you didn’t know that? You should have known that. He’s got his name on the wall.”
Jon Peters does have his name on the wall. He has his name on the cover of the book he wrote titled “When Life Grabs You by the Baseballs.” He has his name on a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University and a master’s degree from Sam Houston State University.
But what he’s most proud of these days are his faith, his family and his sobriety.
Before he was even a teenager, Peters struggled with fear and anxiety. It didn’t matter that he was the best or that he was the first high school athlete in history to land the cover of Sports Illustrated. He wanted to quit when he gave up a home run or when kids asked for his birth certificate, suggesting he was violating age regulations because he was bigger than his teammates.
“A lot of people attributed my temper flare-ups to being a byproduct of adolescence, but I knew the truth,” he writes in the book. “I was deeply insecure and angry. Even though everything looked great in my life … I felt empty inside. Everybody had eyes on the Peters kid, who was going to do great things. But I felt like a fake. I was sure they’d discover the truth about me; that I was no good. The hole in my soul was real, and I didn’t know how to handle it or communicate what I was feeling.”
In 1989, he graduated from Brenham High School and left home for A&M on a baseball scholarship. The following year, he got to throw out the first pitch at a Houston Astros game. Hall of Famer Craig Biggio caught the pitch and ran up to the mound to sign the ball.
“Hey Jon, one piece of advice,” Biggio told him. “Don’t drink and drive.”
But Jon Peters didn’t need anybody to tell him what to do. He loaded up the trunk of his Honda Civic with a cooler of beer and used his local celebrity to wiggle out of jams when he got pulled over. Once, when driving back from a football game in Tomball, after helping himself to those beers in the trunk all day long, Peters’ roommate handed him a stick of gum and said, “I think there’s blue and red lights behind you.”
“It was DPS,” Peters recalled. “They don’t play around. They ain’t pulling you over to say, ‘I’m going to give you a warning.’ I was like, ‘We are fixing to be handcuffed.’ [The trooper] ran my license and came back to the car and said ‘Are you the pitcher?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘Hey, drive safe, just slow it down a little.’ I never got in trouble for anything.”
The cooler of beer evolved into Captain Morgan rum, then cheap vodka in a plastic bottle. At 40 years old, unable to pitch and drunk in a recliner watching ESPN, Peters reached out to a friend and found a 30-day rehab program.
“Me and God, we were fighting,” Peters said. “I heard a voice that said, ‘It’s OK, just tell somebody.’ I had peace.”
At 2:30 a.m., Peters started calling people. His boss was the only who picked up. The boss said he was coming over, and he did, spending the night in Peters’ home and helping him research recovery facilities. While it’s hard to find a bed in a Houston rehab, Peters, as always, was persistent.
“They would say, ‘I can probably get you in next week,’ and I was like, ‘No. I need to go now.’”
It was life or death. Jon Peters chose life.
He checked into La Hacienda the next day.
Peters has been sober since September 2010. He gives some private pitching lessons, works in project management for an oil and gas company and attends four to five meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous each week. He mostly just tries to “live right” for Kylie and Jake.
“It’s not about me; it’s about God,” he said. “I’m gonna screw things up if I try to take charge.”
“When Life Grabs You by the Baseballs” is available at amazon.com and jonpeters.org.