Peter Maris III spent his summer like many red-blooded American boys, playing catch with Dad while dreaming of a future in Major League Baseball.
But few got as close to a wakeup call.
The former UCSB infielder — undrafted as a senior in 2015 and unwanted by the Tampa Bay Rays after elbow surgery in 2018 — has his number on the speed dial of the San Francisco Giants.
“They told me to stay ready and stay a phone call away,” said Maris, who had a pivotal summer of minor league baseball canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the Giants battle this week for one of the final spots in the National League playoffs, Pete III repeats his game of catch with Pete II in Laguna Niguel.
Maris was a boy when his father, who once played middle infield for Cal Poly Pomona, switched him into a left-handed batter.
“We would go out in the rain sometimes and take ground balls,” he recalled. “He would just show me his ways.
“My dad has been my biggest partner in this whole thing. We play catch every day and go down to this facility and hit in the cage. And then I work out, get after it, do some conditioning… That’s pretty much my day, every day except Sunday.”
Maris’ hopes were high in February when he reported to the Giants’ Major League camp in Scottsdale. He got four plate appearances with the big-league club before the coronavirus shut down all spring training.
His final at-bat of 2019 had been a home run for the Sacramento River Cats in their 4-0 victory over Columbus at the Triple-A Championship game in Memphis.
“I turned 26 the day before, and I believe I heard some birthday chants as I ran around the bases,” Maris recalled. “We were playing against the team of another Gaucho, Kyle Nelson… I’m actually glad I didn’t bat again in that game because I would have had to hit against Nelly, and he was pitching really well.
“We got to hang out and socialize after the game… It was a lot of fun.”
Nelson, Maris’ teammate in 2015 when UCSB was one of 16 top seeds for the NCAA Regionals, has spent most of his summer training at the Cleveland Indians’ alternate site. He was called up for a week and even pitched in a game against Kansas City earlier this month.
But Maris wasn’t among the extra players that the Giants kept at their own alternate site.
“I’ve had some ups and downs, and it’s a challenge,” said Maris, who turned 27 last week. “It’s a grind… But I love every part of it. I’ve been an underdog my whole life… Undrafted… I’ve got a chip on my shoulder and it makes me work even harder.
“I’m almost there, so let’s see what happens.”
He played every infield position but first base at UCSB, starting at shortstop as a junior and at third as a senior. His 21-game hitting streak in 2015 was the longest of any Gaucho that season and he ended up batting .294.
Maris’ name wasn’t called during the ensuing MLB Amateur Draft but he got several free-agent offers later that week. He signed with Tampa Bay and has since played in 406 minor-league games, batting .268 over the course of five seasons.
The 5-foot-10 infielder has stood tallest while on the biggest of stages. He rapped an RBI single against Detroit at Major League spring training in 2018 and followed it up the next day with a three-run home run against the New York Yankees.
“That home run was awesome because it was on TV and all my family was watching back home,” Maris said. “I was trying to get the ball out and it happened to go over the fence.”
He batted .277 with 11 homers that summer while splitting 71 games between Single-A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery. The Rays, however, declined to protect him after he underwent Tommy John surgery on his elbow in August.
“I actually started the rehab process with them before they let me go back to school and finish up the rehab in Goleta,” said Maris, who earned his UCSB degree during this offseason. “I got to use the facilities at UCSB and it worked out perfectly.”
That became especially true with the Giants’ organization in need of infielders. They selected him that December in the Rule 5 Draft.
“I knew that as a five-year player, that was my Rule 5 eligibility year,” Maris said. “I just didn’t know all the rules involved with it. It was way too much information. I just wanted to play.”
His strengths did check off several of the boxes on the wish list of Farhan Zaidi, the Giants’ President of Baseball Operations.
Zaidi likes versatility, and that’s been Peter III’s nickname throughout a minor-league career that has featured 118 games at shortstop, 116 at second, 104 at third, 11 in the outfield and even two as an emergency pitcher for Charlotte in 2017.
“You see that now in lineups every night in the Major Leagues, with guys playing different positions,” Maris said. “I really don’t want to play outfield again — that’s how I hurt my arm — but I won’t mind if that’s where they stick me in the big leagues.”
Zaidi also favors players with a keen batting eye. Maris satisfied that prerequisite with a strikeout ratio of just 14.0% and a walk ratio of 11.2%.
When his rehab ended last year, the Giants sent him to Single-A San Jose, then Double-A Richmond, and finally to Triple-A Sacramento — for a few more home-run trots across the big stage.
The River Cats were facing elimination in the Pacific Coast League championship series against Las Vegas when he was summoned to replace Levi Michael, who had been ejected for arguing balls and strikes. Maris responded with a ninth-inning homer that gave Sacramento its final margin in a 5-3 victory.
His homer the next week in the Triple-A Championship Game served as the final stroke of a masterful comeback.
“I do like to flirt with the power a little bit,” Maris said with a smile, “even though I am a little small guy.”
He figures the stakes are bigger now even though he is on a team of just two.
“We’re trying to make it as competitive as we can,” he said of his workouts with Dad. “We use the pitching machine and crank it up as high as it’ll go so I can see some velo and stay ready.
“It’s kind of hard to face real pitching because of the quarantine, but I’m trying to make the most of it.”
The waiting game is the only kind he can play right now.