Editor’s Note: There’s just no way to squeeze this story into a neat package. It has many layers, from baseball to addiction to faith and family. There is much more to come from our two-hour interview with Jon Peters and review of his book “When Life Grabs You by the Baseballs: Finding Happiness in Life’s Changeups.” Future installments of the story can be found on the sports page.
When LeBron James was rocking the court at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School back in 2001, people flew to Akron, Ohio, to watch the kid play ball. They knew he was something special.
But several years prior, a high school pitcher in Brenham was quietly taking the world by storm one fastball at a time.
If you lived in Texas in the late 1980s you’d heard of this pitcher who played for the Brenham Cubs. And by the time he shattered the national – that’s right, national – record to become the pitcher with the most wins in high school baseball, everybody in the country knew his name.
Jon Peters, back in 1989, racked up 51 wins and 0 losses, becoming the country’s record-holder for winning the most consecutive games. In his record-breaking game vs. A&M Consolidated, he not only threw a no-hitter but hit the game-winning RBI. He was the first high school student ever featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, labeled “Super Kid.” He was written up in People Magazine and was interviewed by The Today Show and Good Morning America. He was poised for greatness in college and professional athletics.
But he wasn’t really feeling like a Super Kid.
“What [the public] didn’t know was that less than 24 hours before [the record-breaking game], I’d swallowed an entire bottle of Tylenol, hoping to commit suicide,” Peters writes in his book, “When Life Grabs You by the Baseballs,” which came out in March. “What they didn’t know was that, although I hadn’t succeeded at physically dying, I was dead inside.”
What we also didn’t know was that he actually was supposed to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated previously but baseball legend Pete Rose got into a little gambling trouble. Peters got bumped. After Peters’ book was published, Rose called the Brenham Cubs pitcher to offer an endorsement for the book and said, “Don’t worry about getting bumped off the cover by me. I once got bumped by a horse named Secretariat.”
“When Life Grabs You” tells the story of a young boy who felt out of place, even when he was on top of the world.
“I always felt like I didn’t fit in,” Peters said. “That all started as a young kid. I was a bigger, stronger kid. I was huge, not in high school but when I was young. I loved to eat. I never felt good enough. I wasn’t smart enough, I wasn’t cute enough, on and on and on.”
When he was 8 years old in a Pee Wee Little League game, he lost his footing in the Texas soil, swung into the middle of the tee and fell face-first into the dirt.
“The ball ain’t even in play and I struck out,” he said.
To make matters worse, ball players at the time wore blue jeans with snaps and Peters’ top snap popped open. Today he’s not sure whether people were laughing, but in his mind they were howling at his expense.
“I endured constant comments about my weight, which settled into my soul, accusing me constantly of being fat, of being ugly, of being no good,” he writes in the book.
His only saving grace was that “I could throw the ball real hard.”
He was a hero in the little town of Brenham, but as fast as his star rose, it fell.
After accepting a scholarship to play ball at Texas A&M, he battled shoulder injuries and endured four surgeries. The trouble started years prior when he was pitching in the junior Olympic trials in high school. The scars are still visible on his right arm.
Unable to pitch, he became an undergraduate coaching assistant at A&M. He now works in project management for an oil and gas company and is a single dad to 14-year-old Kylie and 11-year-old Jake. His daughter is a swimmer and his little boy plays basketball and soccer, but Peters says he doesn’t care whether they become athletes.
“Three years ago on Father’s Day we came out of church and it was just on my heart – and their mom was a soccer player – and I said, ‘Y’all don’t have to do anything that your mom and I did,’” Peters recalled. “I told them my only prayer is that when you grow up you fall in love with Jesus and you follow Jesus the rest of your life.”
Peters’ father passed away in 1993 but his mom still lives in Brenham, in the house where he grew up playing ball in the backyard with Mom as his catcher.
The road to a successful, fulfilling life wasn’t easy though. The insecurities that plagued him through his childhood haunted him in adulthood. He divorced the mother of his children; he spent evenings sitting in a recliner watching ESPN and drinking alcohol. He drove drunk; he drank at work and didn’t really care who knew about it. He wanted to die.
But in 2010, he reached out for help. He’s been sober since then, but he makes it clear didn’t get there overnight.
Stay tuned for the next chapter in this series on Jon Peters and “When Life Grabs You by the Baseballs.”
We promise it has a happy ending.
“I wrote this book for two reasons,” Peters said. “To glorify Christ and to help others.”
In fact, on a recent Saturday at a Starbucks in Houston, Peters signed a book for a fan.
“God is so awesome,” he wrote. “Keep swinging for the fences.”