LAKELAND, Fla. -- Veterans with 11 years of Major League service, a new $53 million contract and a guaranteed spot in the lineup don't make too many 150-minute bus rides to play in Spring Training games.
Jhonny Peralta was an exception on Monday, and the cross-Florida trip proved to be well worth it.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny suggested that his new shortstop go so that he could visit his former Tigers teammates and play in front of their fans after spending more than three seasons with the club. Peralta agreed, then went out and blasted two home runs off left-hander Drew Smyly in two plate appearances, hitting one out to left field and one to right.
"I feel really happy to be at home plate here and to face the Detroit Tigers," Peralta said. "I was excited to hear the fans and everything. It made me excited to play today."
The Cardinals and Tigers won't play during the regular season, so Monday might have been Peralta's only chance to face his former club for a while.
Despite serving a 50-game suspension last season following the Biogenesis investigation, then leaving Detroit to sign a four-year deal with St. Louis, Peralta said he wasn't concerned about the reception he would get when he strolled to the plate for the first time at Joker Marchant Stadium. In fact, a crowd of nearly 8,000 -- with plenty of red sprinkled in -- gave Peralta some hearty applause in the first inning.
On Smyly's first pitch, Peralta swung mightily and launched the pitch well up onto the berm behind the left-field wall.
"First-pitch fastball. I felt pretty good," Peralta said. "Then Smyly said something to me. I don't know what he said. But he was kidding around."
Revealed Smyly: "I said, 'I don't think I've seen you swing at a first pitch like that in the two years I've known you.'"
Peralta came back up in the third, this time waiting for a 1-1 count to lift a fly ball into the wind, which helped carry it over the right-field wall and off the scoreboard.
"I've seen his batting practice, so it wasn't anything new," Cardinals starting pitcher Joe Kelly said. "But to watch him go out there and do it in a game, it's pretty funny. It's pretty amazing to watch."
The homers capped a nice day for Peralta, who got to greet several former teammates, as well as former manager Jim Leyland during batting practice.
After coming over from Cleveland in a July 2010 trade, the 31-year-old played 460 games for the Tigers, made two American League All-Star teams and participated in three postseasons. Early in his first camp with the Cardinals, the soft-spoken veteran has quickly settled in to his new surroundings.
"He's been a great addition to the clubhouse already," Matheny said. "He's talked to some of the players we have, and I think they see he's a guy that's a very consistent person as far as how he goes about his work, and he's already kind of fallen in line as far as doing a lot of teaching with the younger players. He's in the right place at the right time, and the guys have taken him in just like he's family. I think it's been a good transition for him so far."