Dustin Peterson still hadn’t mastered the art of sleeping on a moving bus loaded with 30 of his good friends. The Carolina Mudcats’ left fielder was just beginning to doze off around 3:45 a.m. on May 12.
Peterson and his Class A Advanced teammates were on the last leg of a road trip from Virginia to Myrtle Beach that was to culminate with a three-game series in South Carolina. But the Mudcats’ bus never made it.
But the quiet of their ride was broken by the bus driver’s shrill voice shouting a profanity when she clipped a curve on Clarendon Chadbourn Road in Columbus County, North Carolina, about 12 miles from the South Carolina border. Within seconds, all 33 passengers were jolted awake and thrown from their seats when the bus missed a curve in the road, hit a ditch, skidded and flipped on its right side.
“I felt us go off the road and I tried to hold on to the seat in front of me,” said Peterson, Baseball America’s 18th-ranked prospect in the Atlanta Braves minor league system. “But the bus was rolling and it felt like we were about to fall off a cliff. It was pretty scary. Even after we flipped, we still skidded some 200 feet until we finally came to a stop.”
For a second, Peterson admits the worst scenario went through his head.
“I thought that was it,” he said. “I thought we were goners. But when everything stopped moving, I knew I was OK. I got up to try to help make sure the rest of the guys were also OK so we could get out of there as quickly as we could.”
“We (felt) very fortunate with the outcomes, given the circumstances,” Braves assistant director of player development Jonathan Schuerholz told MiLB.com following the accident. “When you see and hear what happened, it obviously could have been much worse.”
Peterson and his teammates were sparred any serious harm. The worst of the injuries were a concussion, a dislocated finger and the whiplash Peterson suffered after a teammate landed on his head when the vehicle flipped. Five players and the team’s athletic trainer, Joe Toenjes, were injured in the accident and treated at a nearby hospital before being released.
Peterson and five other players were subsequently placed on the disabled list, forcing the team to call up a wave of players from low Class-A Rome to fill in.
According to multiple reports, the accident happened while the bus was taking a detour off the N.C. 410 freeway. Fifty-two year old driver Janice Coffman of Virginia was ticketed for speeding by the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.
Before the accident, Peterson was one of the top hitters in the Carolina League. He was riding a league-best .442 average over an especially torrid 14-game streak and ranked second in the league overall in average (.314) and fourth in on-base percentage (.392).
After missing nearly three weeks to recover, Peterson returned Tuesday against the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Although he went 0-for-5 in his return, Peterson struck out just once and was happy to have put the ball into play four times in the Mudcats 6-5 loss at home. Peterson and the Mudcats lost to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, 4-1, in ASN’s Minor League Baseball Sunday Showcase game of the week. Peterson walked twice.
“I didn’t get a hit, but I hit the ball hard,” he said. “I’m lucky to have only been gone a couple weeks. I don’t think I lost much. I’m just thankful to God to be back playing the game I love. I was actually a little jittery and just so pumped up to be back on the field.”
Baseball runs in the Peterson family blood. Dustin’s older brother D.J. Petersen also plays minor league baseball, batting .213 through 48 games as the third baseman for the Double-A Jackson Generals. As a 2013 first-round pick of the Seattle Mariners, D.J. Peterson, 23, also holds family bragging rights for now, as Dustin Peterson, 20, was a second-round pick two years ago in the same draft by the San Diego Padres before being traded to the Braves in a multiplayer deal.
“My brother and I are best friends and keep in touch every day,” said Dustin Peterson, a Phoenix native. “It’s pretty cool to have someone to talk to about the game who understands exactly what you’re going through.”
However, the younger Peterson does own one (albeit unfortunate) one-up on his big brother – knowing how lucky he is to be able to play the game he loves for a living following last month’s bus accident.
“Yeah, I guess I win that one, huh?” said Peterson with a laugh. “I’d rather take having a better batting average. For now, at least.”
Through 31 games, Dustin Peterson is batting .300 with three doubles, a triple, three home runs and 14 RBI. How much the time off from due to a sore neck has affected him remains to be seen.
“I’m off to a good start and so lucky the accident was much worse,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to pick up right where I left off.”