anzacs abroad

ANZACS ABROAD: A Q&A with MLB pitcher Warwick Saupold; a Perth concreter turned Detroit Tiger

A relief pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, Saupold - "a one-eyed Dockers supporter" - is one of only three Aussies currently in the Bigs.

by Ben Stanley
12 June 2017, 6:20pm

© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If you find yourself on a pad job getting done by Dale Concrete in Perth this summer and think the bloke working the chute sports more of a professional athlete's build than your typical Aussie concreter, you may well be right.

A relief pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, Perth's Warwick Saupold is one of only three Australians currently playing Major League Baseball (MLB). Peter Moylan (Kansas City Royals) and Liam Hendricks (Oakland Athletics) are the other two.

Saupold is also the son of Dale Concrete's Tony - and often works with his old man during the American pro baseball off-season. Oddly enough, Moylan is also a former concreter.

Despite of what he has achieved in his chosen sport, when you talk to Saupold; you talk about to a bloke who clearly hasn't forgotten his roots.

Extra Innings: How an Aussie Ex-Concreter Joined Baseball's Best Bullpen

The 27-year-old made his debut for the Tigers, against the Baltimore Orioles, on May 14 last year; becoming just the 33rd Australian to ever play in the Bigs.

While his first taste of MLB was only six games last year, Saupold has established himself the go-to 'long relief' pitcher in the Tigers bull-pen in 2017, where he has notched up a 1-1 record with a 3.28 ERA [earned run average] and 15 strikeouts, in his nine outings, so far.

Saupold's journey to the Tigers' pen is an impressive one. After an impressive year for the Australian Baseball League's Perth Heat in 2012, bench coach - and Tigers' Pacific Rim scout - Kevin Hooker gave him his dream shot.

"He said 'Waz, can you hang back a bit? I want to talk to you," Saupold says. "I did and he said 'look I've got a deal for you, the Tigers want to sign you. Here's your opportunity."

Four years of hard slog in the infamous difficult American minor league system were ahead of him, before he was able to crack the Big League ranks. A stint playing for Australia in the World Baseball Classic this year also featured, as did a bar fight in Toledo last August that saw him arrested.

As he prepared for a game at Detroit's Comerica Park, VICE Sports AUNZ caught up with Saupold for a chat on the phone to talk about his baseball journey, pitching mechanics, concreting - and his undying passion for the Freemantle Dockers.


Gidday, Warwick. You had your first taste of the MLB in 2016, but are starting to establish yourself in the Tigers bullpen this season. How are you feeling about your baseball at the moment?

"I'm feeling good. I had some ups and downs, and rode the waves a little bit, but got my chance this year. I stumbled a little bit early on, went back to Toledo [the Tigers AAA team] and worked closely with Jeff Pico – the pitching coach there.

"We went through some video and went back to what was successful last year – and I think I've found the groove now."

Aussie pitcher Warwick Saupold tagged out Tampa Bay second baseman Brad Miller at Tampa's Tropicana Field this April. Photo credit: © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

What specifically did you work on with your pitching mechanics, and why do you think you're throwing so much better now?

"The stats looked a lot worse than it was, with that bad start [against Tampa Bay]. I only gave up three hits in three innings, but unfortunately for me they were all home runs. Our goal is to keep the ball in the yard, and it was just one of those days.

"I just went back and asked Jeff in Toledo 'what do you think is going wrong?' He came in early and we looked at some film from the previous year. I was a little bit more narrow, upright and not athletic. The weight was on my front foot, instead of being centered on my back foot.

"I needed to lift my leg up higher to give me more time. They are all little adjustments, but I feel like I had way better control of the baseball. Little more minor adjustments that went a long way."

You share a clubroom with some of the best players in Major League Baseball, in [pitcher] Justin Verlander and [first baseman] Miguel Cabrera. They could well be Hall of Famers one day. What's it like to go to work with them everyday - and is there a fair bit of banter?

"It's unreal, mate. Every day, you walk into the clubhouse and are around guys like that. Guys like Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton and Frankie Rodriguez too – it's surreal. It takes a little bit to get used to, but it's great being around them. They're all great guys and legends on and off the field.

"As you say, you're looking a couple of Hall of Famers in the future. So it's pretty cool.

"Absolutely, there is banter. Aussies are good at it too – we have little jabs at each other. Banter, in any locker room, is great for team moral and definitely happens in the Major Leagues too."

Not many Australians have been in your position, playing Major League Baseball. What does it mean to you to be an Aussie in the Bigs?

"It's huge. It's great for baseball in Australia. There's not a lot of people that have done it – I think there's been 33. We're looking to build the game back home and get it on a bigger stage. Playing in the World Baseball Classic helped that; we played really well over there. Take one inning away and we would have made it to the second round.

"Peter Moylan and Liam Hendricks want the same thing. They want it to grow and see more young Australians make it to the big leagues. That's our goal for the Australian baseball community. The more that we do here, the more articles are written in the papers and stuff on social media. It's hard to find time on the news right now with all the other sports going on.

"Ideally, we'd love ten to twelve guys up here and get some media coverage and get other people to jump on board. It's just like any Aussie doing well overseas – you look at what Lauren Jackson did, in basketball. That's what we want, and that's our goal."

Saupold has established himself as an important part of the Detroit Tigers bullpen this season. Source: MLB/YouTube.

Let's take a step back to your early days. How did you start playing baseball? It seems an odd choice for a kid from Perth.

"Mum spent a lot of team with the national coach Jon Deeble growing up. He was always into baseball. When he was playing baseball, he'd drag Mum along and suggested I tried tee-ball.

"After a bit of tee-ball, to be honest, I got bored of it. It wasn't challenging enough. So I moved on and played some other sports; a bit of soccer, a bit of Aussie Rules. Then I said 'I want to give it a crack.' At first, they wouldn't let me play peewee baseball because I was too young.

"So I went to another club and they let me played with a waiver signed. I was eight years old playing in the under-12s – it was challenging, then. That's where I feel in love with it and went with it."

In terms of world sport, the grind of Minor League Baseball is well known. Is really all cheap motels, takeaways and long bus drives?

"It's tough and I was lucky – I only spent five years in the Minors. There's one guy [in Toledo] at the moment, who has spent twelve years in there.

"There are days when you think to yourself 'am I doing it for the right reasons? Do I love it?' Then you think 'absolutely.' I've flown all the way to the other side of the world, away friends and family, because it's something I love and love doing. Yea, there's the cheap hotels and long bus rides. The bus rides grind on you a little bit.

"But if you have found, and surround yourself with the right people, it's softens it a little bit. And the higher you go, the better it gets. I mean, geez, I could be doing what I was doing before this; pushing concrete and laying concrete at six in the morning until three in the afternoon."

Was concreting your old job, back in Perth?

"Yeah. Dad had his own business. He asked me to come to work one day, and I did. I kinda enjoyed it, so I thought I might as well make some money. So I did it on the weekends, and went with it.

"It's not the easiest work – you could definitely choose easier. But Dad would wake me up in the mornings, go out and get the job done. You're with family, too. I still do it to this day, when I go back in the off-season. I'll work a few days for Dad. Not as many as I did before, but one or two days a week.

"One, to work and hang out with Dad, which I love. And two, it keeps you level-headed, to be honest. You could be doing other things – it reminds you that you're lucky to be playing baseball."

You were involved in a bar fight in Toledo last August. What are your reflections on that incident now?

"I was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. As a professional athlete, you don't want to be out late at night. I learnt that – and it was a wake-up call. I'll never put myself in that position again.

"I've done a really good job of just going out for dinner, and then going home and playing X-Box or Playstation. I'm home early now and unwinding in different way. You don't want to put yourself in that situation. It's not what I'm about – I'm here to work."

Perth's Warwick Saupold is one of only three Australians currently playing Major League Baseball. Photo credit: © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Fast forward to your debut with the Tigers last year. What are your memories of that day?

"It was unreal. Words can't describe what I was feeling at the time. I was actually super-nervous right up until the moment where the phone ring and the coach said 'Saupold, get ready.'

"For some reason, the nerves went away. Then the bullpen coach said, 'Saupold, you're up.' Once I started running to the mound, I had these flashbacks of all the things that got me there. Playing tee-ball, going down to the ballpark by myself on a Friday afternoon, stuff like that.

"It was a really weird feeling. I'd previously spoke to guys like Luke Hughes to see how they handled it. They said 'soak it in. Step off the mound before you get in there, and have a look around. Then take a deep breathe, and go to work.' That definitely helped."

What sports do you follow, back in Australia?

"I'm a one-eyed Dockers supporter, mate. Big time. I love my Freo Dockers and try to watch some games. I tend to check up on the scores and watch the news conferences online.

"I've had a couple of mates that have played for Freemantle. Chris Mayne has moved [to Collingwood], but my mate Michael Johnson is still there. I speak to those guys a fair bit. It's a rebuilding phase for the Dockers at the moment, but they're actually looking a lot better than what I first thought this year."