TEMPE, Ariz. -- The hottest hitter in NCAA Division I baseball returned home Wednesday night to play in front of a large gathering of family and friends on one of college baseball's grandest stages. A cloudless desert sky and 80-degree temperature greeted folks at Arizona State's Packard Stadium, and standout University of New Mexico third baseman D.J. Peterson from nearby Gilbert, Ariz., couldn't have been in a better place.
"It's a little nerve-racking because I think there's going to me more of my family here than fans (in general)," Peterson said with a laugh just before the Lobos took BP at Packard about two hours before first-pitch. "But it's fun; I love that they get a chance to watch me and I get a chance to play against my little cousin (ASU sophomore Nathaniel Causey). It's going to be interesting and it's going to be fun."
Sitting among Peterson's family members was perhaps his biggest fan, younger brother Dustin, himself a highly ranked prospect who is a senior at Gilbert High School. Dustin Peterson is Perfect Game's No. 135-ranked national prospect in the 2013 class (No. 14 shortstop prospect) who has signed, get ready, with Arizona State. On this night, however, he could be excused for cheering long and loud for one particular New Mexico Lobo.
"It's really exciting -- especially with this being in our hometown -- I'm just glad I got the chance to see him play," Dustin said midway though Wednesday's game while decked out in an ASU Sun Devils T-shirt. "And watching Big Cousin (Causey), too, it's always awesome to support the family. I really enjoy it.
"We've got all the family here," he continued with a smile. "We had to get tons of tickets just for the family, but it's pretty nice; I'm enjoying it and I'm sure they are as well. I don't really have a favorite tonight -- I committed to ASU, I love ASU, I'm diehard ASU -- but at the same time my brother's over there playing for the Lobos so I'm cheering him on as well."
The only group of observers that might have out-numbered Peterson family members were those belonging to the scouting community. A very unofficial tally counted at least 50 scouts filling the bleachers at Packard and it was safe to say the vast majority were in attendance to watch D.J. Peterson.
The Lobos played No. 13-ranked Arizona State here Wednesday night (ASU won, 4-3, in 11 innings) just two days before they were slated to begin Mountain West Conference play at UNLV. There was no one in the country swinging a more devastating bat during their team's non-conference portion of the schedule -- regardless of conference -- than D.J. Peterson. He ranked first or second nationally in six offensive categories before Wednesday's game.
How good has Peterson been? In the Lobos (6-8) first 14 games, he hit .500 (29-for-58) with seven doubles, three triples and eight home runs; drove in 22 runs and scored 24 more; and sported an on-base percentage of .597 with an other-worldly slugging percentage of 1.138.
"I'm just trying to stay locked in and not take a pitch off," D.J. said. "I want to try to contribute to this team and do everything that I can to get this team rolling and hopefully get this team to (an NCAA) Super Regional and maybe even Omaha. I'm trying not to do too much, just stay locked and try to hit the ball hard down and make good contact."
Few have enjoyed the torrid start D.J. is experiencing more than his younger brother.
"I'm just excited for him, just the things that he's capable of doing and what he has been doing," Dustin said. "His career at UNM has just been awesome to watch and it's a privilege to be his brother."
D.J. was a two-time, first-team Arizona all-state performer at Gilbert High and was named the MVP at the 2009 Don Mattingly World Series while playing for the championship Angels Scout Team. He never participated in a Perfect Game event while in high school, although he was on the Texas Scout Team Yankees roster -- one that included future first-round draft picks Jameson Taillon, Josh Sale and Dillon Bundy -- at the 2009 PG WWBA World Championship. He was unable to play in that event due to injury.
D.J. Peterson was selected in the 33rd round of the 2010 MLB amateur draft right out of Gilbert High, but decided to honor his commitment to New Mexico. It didn't take long for the question as to whether or not he made the right decision to be answered.
He led the Lobos in hitting as a freshman (.317) and totaled 48 extra-base hits -- the 32 doubles he hit were an NCAA Division I single-season record for a freshmen -- 48 RBI and 134 total bases. He was named the MVP of the Mountain West Conference Tournament, which New Mexico won, and was named to a pair of national freshmen All-American teams. The Lobos won the MWC and advanced to the NCAA Regional for the second straight year.
Peterson continued on his tear last season when he hit .419 with 17 home runs and 78 RBI, posted a .490 on-base percentage and .734 slugging percentage. He was named a Perfect Game All-American, the Mountain West Conference Co-Player of the Year with Lobos teammate Mitchell Garver and to USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team. The Lobos (37-24) shared a second straight MWC title and made their third straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
"The way my whole family looks at it is every year you have a chance to get better, so during that offseason whatever we need to work on, that's what we're doing," D.J. said. "That can be off the field things like footwork or agility, power -- stuff like that. Every year we think we should get better and that's what we're going to continue to do, me and my little brother both."
He has never regretted for a moment his decision to spend three years in Albuquerque playing for head coach Ray Birmingham instead of signing a professional contract as a 33rd-round pick right out of high school.
"They've been a blessing," D.J. said of those three years. "I've got play for one of the best hitting coaches in the nation (Birmingham) and I got to really break down my swing. I got to work on things that I really needed to work on in high school, so it's been just a blessing; it's been fun and it's been a good ride.
"I was ready to go to (college) and then, hopefully, in three years get drafted a little higher," he continued. "I was ready to go get an education and go play ball at the University of New Mexico, and hopefully after three years went by I'd get drafted a little higher."
That's more of a sure thing than sunshine in the Valley of the Sun. PG ranks D.J. Peterson as the 20th overall top prospect in the draft or, in other words, a can't-miss first-rounder. He insists he won't allow himself to think about the draft until what is sure to be his final collegiate season is in the books.
"It's only March and we've still got April and May in front of us," D.J. said. "I'm just going to continue to play and see what happens in June. If I go in the first round, awesome, and if I don't, then I don't. I'm just going to continue to do what I'm doing right now and have fun with this team, and hopefully we're in the (NCAA postseason) by the end of the year."
Dustin Peterson has been much more active with Perfect Game than his older brother, which is a product of the inroads PG has made into Arizona in the last several years. Dustin participated in six PG events in 2011 and 2012, including last year's 17u Perfect Game World Series in Peoria, Ariz., with Arizona Elite and the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., with the Rays Scout Team.
"I just love facing the good competition; it's always better that way," Dustin said of his PG experiences. "I'm just out there having fun playing baseball and I enjoy every minute of it."
He admitted to be taken a little aback when he first witnessed the scene in Jupiter with its small army of scout-filled golf carts.
"That was something else," he said shaking his head. "I never even thought there were that many scouts anyway, and to see all those guys out there it was pretty awesome."
These Arizona brothers and top prospects are extremely close. The three-year age difference seems to provide more a bridge than a divide, and D.J. tries to follow Dustin's progression as much as Dustin follows his.
"We text, we make phone calls every day, and he's impressed me more and more every day," D.J. said. "He's getting better every day and he's doing a lot of good things. He's showing scouts that if he's not yet better than me in high school, he'll be there one day. He's a tools-y player and he's got a lot of things going for him."
"He's been a tremendous influence," Dustin said. "He's my role model and if you ask him he'll say I'm his role model. So, yeah, me and him, we're really close."
When ASU associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Ken Knutson got Dustin's commitment, he wrote on the program's website: "We thought he was the best-kept secret in Arizona. I thought he was one of the top hitters in the state as a junior and I don't think he did anything but hit ball hard in probably the first 30 at-bats I saw out of him. He's just a premium hitter and he has great bloodlines."
D.J. said his younger brother's decision to become a Sun Devil was his alone.
"He wanted to do his own thing; he doesn't want to follow in my shadow anymore," D.J. said. "He wanted to break out and do his own thing and be Dustin instead of D.J.'s little brother. I respect his decision -- (ASU) is a good program. I'm just excited that we're down here playing them and hopefully we can beat them."
Dustin is ranked the 172nd overall prospect in the same draft his older brother is ranked 20th, which projects to a fifth-round pick. So the possibility exists that both could be playing professionally at this time next year.
"We'll see how it goes, absolutely," Dustin said. "I know I have great opportunities either way (college or pro) so we'll just see how it goes."
And if D.J.'s name gets called in the first round?
"That would be awesome," Dustin said. "It's really exciting for the whole family. It's really something special."