Braves sold on salesman turned pitcher

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – He was a salesman. Pest control, security systems, pharmaceutical compounds. Whatever paid the bills. Peter Moylan would wake up at 6 a.m., hit the office by 8, tote his briefcase from place to place, debrief at work and head home. He was 27, good at his job and he really didn't think about the life he left behind.

Because that was Moylan's greatest sale of all, the idea he sold himself, that he was OK with blowing his baseball career because of immaturity or laziness or whatever sort of malaise affects teenagers. Ten years earlier, the Minnesota Twins had signed him out of Australia. Before he turned 20, they released him. And he learned to live with never making it out of rookie ball. What other choice did he have?

Moylan could fantasize, sure, and he did when he popped in the DVD of "The Rookie." It was classic Disney fodder, saccharine enough to floor a diabetic, the story of Jim Morris, a baseball washout who found out at 35 that his fastball could still sing and actually made the major leagues. Moylan watched it again and again.

"There was a void," he said. "I knew I didn't give it 100 percent the first time. I thought I squandered any opportunity I had."

Moylan is talking from his hotel room situated a hop, skip and jump from the Atlanta Braves' spring-training complex at Disney's Wide World of Sports. He spends nearly every day of his spring in the shadow of Mickey Mouse himself. It fits. Moylan might be the major leagues' unlikeliest player, and unlike Morris, who didn't even get a tall latte, Moylan is actually contributing.

He was one of baseball's best relief pitchers last season, a right-hander with an unorthodox sidearm delivery. So perhaps that's the best place to begin Moylan's journey: on the operating table for his second back surgery, the one that forced him to stop throwing overhanded.

Moylan blamed his back woes on that style of pitching, which meant upon his return to the Blackburn Orioles – his club team in Melbourne – he stopped pitching altogether and stationed himself at first base. For the next three years, Moylan's back cooperated, and he had developed an entirely new throwing motion to compensate for his surgery.

So what the hell, he'd give it a whirl. Moylan pantomimed sidearm pitching in the outfield, then tried it in games and wasn't half bad. No one cared much, as baseball isn't rugby or cricket or Australian Rules Football, and the games are more renowned for their beer consumption afterward than their quality of play during. Still, with upward of 100 Australians playing organized baseball today, scouts still patrol the country, and they were shocked to see what the has-been had become.

Following an exhibition with his state team, the Victorian Aces, Moylan was cornered by a scout.

"Do you have any idea how hard you're throwing?" the scout asked.

"No," Moylan replied.

"We clocked you at 94 mph," the scout said.

Moylan had never thrown 94. He thought the scout was playing a prank. The scout invited him to the World Baseball Classic tryouts, and Moylan knew he wasn't.

He made the team and in early March of 2006 flew into Orlando. He had packed clothes for two weeks. His boss at the pharmaceutical company continued to pay him. Moylan just hoped to contribute. So did his team, albeit not on the mound.

"Someone who is expected to see most of his action as a first baseman," read his entry in the media guide.

Moylan wanted to pitch in Australia's first game against Italy. The crowd was small. He never made it in. Australia next faced Venezuela, the prohibitive favorite. More than 10,000 fans packed the stadium at the Wide World of Sports complex. Flags flew, drums thumped and, amid the chaos, Moylan entered in the fifth inning.

"I remember how nervous he was," said Phil Stockman, a fellow Australian reliever in the Braves organization. "Remember, he'd never faced anyone above rookie ball and beer league in Australia. He goes straight in and starts punching everyone out."

Down went Bobby Abreu. Then Magglio Ordoñez. And Ramon Hernandez. Three All-Stars, plus Marco Scutaro for good measure. Around his four strikeouts Moylan mixed five walks, including a bases-loaded one to Omar Vizquel.

No matter. At the hotel that night, Moylan received a handful of calls. The next day Australia played the Dominican Republic. The day after, it was back home on a plane for 20 hours. Moylan didn't have an agent. He wasn't sure how he would cope without his family.

"Most of all, I didn't know how good I was," Moylan said. "In my head, I had never made it out of rookie ball and I was pitching in a weekend league in Australia. The idea that I actually had a chance to make a major league team?"

The Twins wanted to sign Moylan. Bad memories. So he listened to the Braves, whose management he met and whose propensity to promote rookies he liked. That day, he signed for $30,000 and joined Atlanta's camp.

Immediately they were smitten by his boring 94-mph fastball that is murder on right-handers and the slider that complements it. Atlanta called him up from Triple-A to debut April 12 and shuttled him back and forth for the rest of the season.

Last season, Moylan stuck and his 1.80 ERA was the best in the major leagues for a pitcher with at least 80 innings. Batters hit .208 against Moylan, and he managed to harness the fastball that so enthralled Atlanta in the first place.

"He's got as much movement on the ball as I've ever seen," Cox said. "Any pitcher."

Now, Cox managed Greg Maddux for 11 seasons, so to bestow such a plaudit on Moylan carries weight, as does Cox's proclamation that Moylan could close if Rafael Soriano struggles. Catcher Brian McCann called him "one of our MVPs last season."

Long way from the 17-year-old who complained that 8 a.m. workouts were too early.

"For me, honestly, it was all about being able to tell my folks that I wasn't a complete (screw)-up," Moylan said. "In my own head, I knew I had the potential to do what I'm doing right now. No one believed it. They thought I was a young punk. And I was."

Oh, at 29, there's a little of it left in him. Moylan can jabber with the best of his teammates, and he's got a new pet topic.

"I'm waiting for my movie," Moylan said. "Eric Bana can play me. At least he'd get the accent right."

He chuckled. The Incredible Hulk playing him? Why not?

This is Peter Moylan's fantasy, and he's living it every day.

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