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

Now a Royals relief pitcher, Aussie Peter Moylan was once a pharmaceutical rep who had given up on his MLB dream

|
Jul 4 2016, 1:00pm

Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Australia.

In early 2005, Peter Moylan thought he had blown his dream.

Back then he was a former teenage baseball star working as a pharmaceutical rep in Melbourne. He played semi-pro ball on the weekends, but thought his childhood aspiration to play Major League Baseball (MLB) was long since over.

Just over a year later, he was pitching for the Atlanta Braves. Over a decade on, now with the Kansas City Royals, the Perth-born relief pitcher is part of the best bullpen in baseball.

Along with fellow Perth-born pitchers, Warwick Saupold (Detroit Tigers) and Liam Hendricks (Oakland Athletics), the 37-year-old is one of only three Australians currently in the Bigs.

What happened in those early months and all the years between has been a sporting rollercoaster of blown elbows, playoff pitching, minor league ping-ponging, self-doubt and steely resolve few pro baseball players would ever want endure.

"[In 2006], I went from local club baseball in Australia to pitching for the Australian team in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) against the superstars of Venezuela to the Major Leagues - to pitching against the Philadelphia Phillies in the Big Leagues," Moylan says.

"If I sat down and decided I was going to write a movie, I would have never have thought of a script like that. I got to live it instead."

Moylan is sitting in the clubhouse at Citi Field in Queens, New York, talking to VICE Sports AUNZ. Tonight his Royals will play the New York Mets in a repeat of last year's World Series, which Kansas City won.

Moylan's role with the Royals is far different from the one he had during his early days at the Braves, where he would be thrown the ball in high-pressure situations.

These days, he's happy to help out where he's needed and watch the likes of Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis do their thing night in, night out.

"I was in a role with Atlanta in the early days where I was pitching in a lot of high leverage situations," Moylan, a staunch Hawthorn Hawks fan, says.

"That's like having runners on base in a tight game, and trying to get out of the inning. I found myself now being one of the other guys where I get to set back and watch the guys that have got them to the last two World Series — and see how good they actually are.

"These guys are just absolute professionals. You can see, by the way they go about their day-to-day work and routines, why they've been the absolute best in baseball for the last two years."

Since being called up by the Royals from their AAA-affiliate team in Omaha, Moylan has notched up a highly serviceable 3.38 ERA (earned run average), with 17 strikeouts in 18.2 relief innings.

Peter Moylan tagging out Houston Astros centrefielder Carlos Gomez during a recent MLB game. Photo: Peter Aiken/USA Today

Moylan's current baseball circumstances are a world away from his first attempt to make it in America in 1996.

Back then the 18-year-old was one of the hottest young talents in Australian baseball. The Minnesota Twins signed him to a rookie contract, but he admits that he took an air of arrogance to the United States with him.

"When I went over to the Twins, I was straight out of high school and had never left home," Moylan — whose heavily tattooed arms include the names of his two daughters and 'accomplish all without fear' in Chinese characters — says.

"I wasn't fully prepared for what was about to take place. I went from being one of the best players in Australia to being at Spring Training for the first time and you're just one of 150 guys trying to make the team — most of which are better than you.

"I wasn't as committed to it [as the other players]. I thought that having to go to the field every day was a chore. I didn't realize, having not worked before, that life outside of baseball is much worse.

He would get the opportunity to find out. The Twins cut Moylan in 1997, and he would head back to Australia, where for the next eight years, he would bounce between the biggest range of odd jobs you could imagine.

You name it, Moylan did it; from pool plumbing and concreting, to selling security, pest control, upholstery fabric and lift chairs.

As he chipped away at the coalface, a sense of frustration grew as he saw other Australian baseball players who he grew up with making it in the United States.

"I thought the opportunity was gone," Moylan says.

"I thought I was done, but I would see games and guys that I was competitive with who had made it to the Big Leagues. I wouldn't say I was any better than them, but we were on the same teams.

"They managed to make it four or five years later, while I was back in Australia being a fabric rep or pharmaceutical rep or whatever job I was doing.

"That was the frustrating part for me to see other guys make it, and thinking that had I tried or been committed as I should have been — that could have been me."

During his long stretch back home, which he split between Sydney and Melbourne, he kept playing baseball, pitching in the Claxton Shield and playing first base for Victoria.

Fortunately for Moylan, his pharmaceutical boss also happened to be Geoff Pearce, the president of the Australia Baseball Federation, who helped him get onto the national team for the WBC in March 2006.

The Australian coaches were impressed when they saw him pitching. His velocity was up to 154 km per hour, and his arm angle had changed.

Though he did make four strikeouts, Moylan's pitching wasn't untouchably good in the WBC in Florida; walking five as well as giving up one hit and one run in two innings. Scouts from the Braves — the Australians were training at the MLB team's Spring Training complex — were impressed though. Head scout Dayton Moore, now the Royals general manager — gave Moylan a tour around the facility, and offered him a contract.

A month later, he pitched in his first MLB game against the Phillies. The first batter he faced was Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, who he got on pop out in the infield.

Moylan's dream had come true, and for the next five years, he kept living it. From 2007 to 2010, Moylan was a key set-up reliever in the Braves pen, recording an ERA consistently below 3.00 and a strikeout rate of around 7.5 per nine innings.

Peter Moylan pitching for the Atlanta Braves against the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field, Atlanta in 2007. Photo: Jason Parkhurst/USA Today.

"From 2006 to 2011 it was basically a fairytale ride," he says. He required a 'Tommy John' elbow surgery in 2008, but worked his way back to his former levels of dominance the following season.

"Everything was going great. I had an injury in 2008, but I was able to come back and pitch well. But from the start of 2011, it took a different route."

Moylan started the 2011 season with the Braves, but suffered a serious back injury and torn rotator cuff and labrum in his shoulder. The injuries would destroy his next two seasons.

He was then picked up by the Los Angeles Dodgers for 2013 — a season he spent ping-ponging between their Major League team and AAA-affiliate — before the Houston Astros offered him a deal at spring training the following year.

After a promising start to his training, Moylan blew his elbow again — meaning he'd require a second Tommy John surgery that meant he'd have to sit out another year. The Astros cut him immediately, and a distraught Moylan returned to Australia to contemplate his career.

"I spent the next 12 months at home, contemplating life, really," he says.

"I was deciding whether I was gong to come back or call it a day. I thought if people are going to keep offering me jobs, I'm going to keep trying to pitch."

Moylan dropped more than 20 kilograms in Australia — "I worked my ass off, excuse my French" — before being offered a deal with his old friends at the Braves.

They would offer him a two-year minor league contract with the proviso he had to serve as a rookie league pitching coach in Florida as he rehabbed his elbow.

The decision would mean he would be away from his two daughters in Australia but Moylan took it with both hands.

"I was getting to the field at 5am, getting my work done, working with the kids until 5pm in the afternoon – and then working on other things I needed to do," he says. "They were long days there."

Highlights of Moylan's time with the Atlanta Braves. Video: YouTube

In March this year, Moylan signed a minor league deal with the Royals. He had joked with his Aussie mates that he wanted to make the best bullpen in the league, but wouldn't get the opportunity early in the season after a disappointing spring training with the Royals.

The hard work eventually paid off. Moylan as sent to Gwinnett last July before being called up to Atlanta last September. He pitched 0.2 scoreless innings against the Diamondbacks.

They sent him to their AAA-affiliate team in Omaha, where the Australian veteran became a dependable presence in the Stormchasers final innings, recording a 0.71 ERA with five saves in 12.2 innings.

He was called up to replace Kris Medlen — an old friend from the Braves he rehabbed with the season before — in mid-May.

Apart from a brief week-long stint back in Omaha in early June, has remained with the Big League team ever since. The can-do attitude of the Royals has impressed Moylan as the notoriously exhausting 162-game regular season grinds on.

"It's just a different attitude and feeling here," Moylan says.

"I've been on other teams when you go on losing streaks and you don't want to be in the clubhouse — it's just miserable. With this team, it's different.

"At one point, we lost eight in a row and the feeling in the clubhouse never changed. It's always positive thoughts and positive attitudes. They want to keep pushing and keep pushing."

Positivity, and an attitude to make it that never changes? Looks like a certain former pharmaceutical rep from Perth and the defending World Series champions are a perfectly, imperfect match.

Follow Ben on Twitter