Which story do you want to hear first? Do you want to hear the one about the Australian baseball pitcher, toiling away as a pool plumber and concrete layer when his career crumbled? How about the same guy, talking his way through an interview at a Japanese security company? Or how about the time he found a gig selling commercial pest control? That was kind of weird, he says.
And then, of course, there was the time Peter Moylan found steady work at an Australian glass company, installing these splash-back walls in home kitchens. The glass story is a fun one.
Moylan had a good friend who started the company. This was the early 2000s, and those splash-back walls were becoming quite trendy in Australian homes. And Moylan? Well, he had to do something. He was in his early 20s then, searching for a source of income after his baseball career washed out, a gregarious 6-foot-2, 225-pound Aussie who needed some cash so he could enjoy the finer parts of life. You remember your early 20s, right?
“I was basically a laborer that would do anything,” Moylan says. “I was showing up at 7 in the morning, getting in the truck, installing all day long. I would come back from installing, I would have something to eat, cut the glass and then after that, we’d paint.”
The next day, he would do it again, working from 7 a.m. until 11 at night. Some days, as the jobs piled up, he would think about the baseball career that didn’t pan out, the two seasons he was in Rookie ball with the Minnesota Twins in 1996 and 1997. All these years later, Moylan says the tale sounds like a movie, like “The Rookie” meets “Crocodile Dundee.” Maybe some day, when this is all over, he’ll write a book. But for now, he still has other priorities.
Moylan has become a critical member of the Royals’ bullpen, a side-arming specialist who has posted a 3.73 ERA, been a nuisance on right-handed hitters and helped fill the void left by injuries to Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis.
“He’s deceptive,” Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland says.
Inside the clubhouse, he is the personification of resiliency, a veteran who has overcome two Tommy John surgeries and a litany of back problems. On some days, his Australian accent fills the room, offering a chorus of self-deprecating jokes and funny stories. On others, he serves as mentor to the club’s young pitchers.
Long ago, Moylan realized he’d earned a reputation as a “good clubhouse guy,” a man who could lighten the mood and contribute to the culture of an organization. Maybe it’s part of the reason he’s still here, he says, still flinging side-arm sliders at the age of 37.
“He’s just a great guy,” says Royals pitcher Kris Medlen, who developed a kinship with Moylan while both pitchers were with the Atlanta Braves. “He’s the kind of guy you want to sit at the bar with and just talk for hours.”
It was in those conversations that Medlen first started to learn Moylan’s story, piece by piece, one amazing anecdote after another. Pieces like this:
One year before Moylan made his major-league debut for the Braves in 2006, he was working as a pharmaceutical sales rep in Melbourne, Australia, and serving as a player/manager for a local club baseball team on the side. Four years before that, he was pouring concrete and cutting glass and, every so often, still thinking about baseball.
“Had I not (messed) it all up,” Moylan remembers thinking, “this could have been my career.”
Growing up in Perth, Australia, Moylan had started playing T-ball during his first years of grammar school. His introduction to the sport was a simple one. His father had traveled to the United States on business and attended a couple of Astros games at the Astrodome in Houston. Tom Moylan was instantly hooked.
“He thought I would love the game,” Moylan says.
Baseball is still something of a niche sport in Australia. Rugby and Aussie rules football, among others, remain more popular. But Moylan grew into one of the country’s top young baseball talents. In those days, he was still a traditional pitcher with an over-the-top release. He was 17 with a solid fastball and some athleticism. He signed with the Minnesota Twins in 1996.
In the weeks after signing, Moylan headed for the Twins’ facility in Fort Myers, Fla. But his first foray into baseball didn’t quite take. Maybe it was homesickness, he says. Maybe he wasn’t ready for it. Maybe he was just too immature, too young, liked having too much fun.
“I had never had that kind of freedom before,” Moylan says. “And I kind of took advantage of it a little bit too much and wasn’t fully committed to showing up to the field every day. I thought, right then, having to go to the field at 8 in the morning sucks, because all I’d known is school. I’d come straight out of high school. I didn’t know what it was like to work a regular job.
“I didn’t know that showing up to a field at 8 a.m. in the morning and being there until 3 in the afternoon was 50 times better than showing up to an office at 7 in the morning and then actually have to hit targets and budgets. So at the time, I thought it was the worst thing in the world.”
By his second year with the Twins, Moylan began to settle in. He started eating better, he says. He started taking baseball more seriously. He started having some success on the mound.
But one day, toward the end of the season, he suffered a fluke injury, tearing some ligaments in his ankle while stepping on a piece of equipment during batting practice. His season was done. He was released the next spring. He headed back to Australia, not sure of what to do next.
The odd jobs came next, a few years of drifting about and piecing together a decent wage. But by his mid 20s, Moylan had carved out a nice career as a pharmaceutical rep, a job that left plenty of time for club baseball.
Sometimes he would play first base. Other times it was third or shortstop or outfield. After battling back problems for years, he had developed a swing path that allowed him to hit pain free. But he had essentially quit pitching. Too much pain.
One day, Moylan says, he started playing around with throwing submarine style, taking the same approach to pitching that he had with his swing. The motion felt comfortable immediately, like he had been doing it for years. His velocity sat somewhere in the low 90s. His command was there. After a while, he added a side-arm slider to the arsenal.
“Guys would take six swings and not even come close,” Moylan says. “I’d think, ‘OK, this is pretty good for this level. We might win.’ Never in my wildest dreams did I think that what I was doing was ever going to translate to what I’m doing now. I thought, long before that, that I’d squandered any opportunity that I was going to have in America.”
His big break came in the run-up to the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006. Moylan earned a spot on the Australian team and caught the eye of major-league scouts in the process. A few days after the Aussies were eliminated, the Atlanta Braves invited him to their facility in Orlando for a possible tryout.
When Moylan arrived, a young Atlanta executive named Dayton Moore was there to meet him. The Braves would end up offering a contract. Moylan called his boss at the pharmaceutical company — who doubled as an official in the Australian baseball federation.
“Listen buddy, you’re going to have to find another sales rep,” Moylan told him. “Because I’m not coming back.”
By the opening weeks of the 2006 season, Moylan was making his big-league debut. It was — and remains — and wild progression. One year later, he posted a 1.80 ERA in 90 innings, establishing himself as a presence in the Braves bullpen.
“It’s a different look,” Eiland says. “There’s not a whole lot of guys like that around. He’s got late sink to his fastball. He’ll also throw it up in the zone. And that slider is very deceptive.”
The rest of his career has not been perfect, of course. After solid seasons in 2009 and 2010, injuries began to ravage his career. Back problems. Elbow issues. His body began to break.
He made just 35 appearances between 2011 and 2014. And by 2015, he was attempting his second comeback from Tommy John surgery. Somehow, he persevered. His velocity came back. He returned to the big leagues with the Braves last August.
“Getting called up last year felt better than the original one, if you can believe that,” Moylan says. “I had five years of major-league service time at the end of 2011. It’s taking me until 2016 to get six.”
In the offseason, Moylan signed a minor-league deal with the Royals, reuniting with Moore. When he was called up from Class AAA Omaha in May, he walked inside a clubhouse at Yankee Stadium and announced his presence.
“They call me the old man,” he said, stuffing some equipment into his locker.
More than three months later, Moylan is still here, still heaving sliders from down under and tramping around the clubhouse, still lightening the mood with the usual jokes about himself.
His arms covered in tattoos, his trademark glasses on his face, Moylan is still the pitcher who poured concrete and cut glass and sold pharmaceuticals. But for now, he says, the book and movie can wait. For now, he is prepared to keep throwing a baseball for as long as his body will allow.
“I’m glad I had a little bit of patience,” he says. “It’s not my strong suit.”