Devin Williams, soccer superstar? It could have happened

September 10th, 2023

In a recent interview with at Yankee Stadium, Brewers right-hander  discussed a wide range of topics -- from his role as the team’s closer to how his grandfather convinced him to play baseball over soccer. This is your first full year as the team’s closer. Is it what you expected?
Devin Williams: Yeah. There is really nothing too different than pitching in the eighth or the ninth inning. To me, it’s the same job; just a different inning. You don’t pitch as often in the ninth-inning role.
Williams: Yeah. I prefer to pitch when they need me the most. So if we get out to a big lead, we have other relievers who can handle it. I’m going to be available every time in a close game. I don’t want to be [sitting] down because I was in a four-run ballgame the day before. Everybody talks about your airbender, which is your changeup and strikeout pitch. How did that come about?
Williams: It’s something that happened naturally. It’s something I played around with as a kid to mess with my friends. I kind of carried it over to the mound. I started to develop it -- see what it's like coming off the mound. I learned to control it. I still struggle with it sometimes. Organically, it just happened from the time I was 10 years old. You are a rare closer. For most closers, their cutter or fastball is their main pitch. It’s rare when you see a closer use a changeup as their main pitch. Do you realize how rare you are?
Williams: Yep. Throwing a majority of changeups -- no matter what role you are in -- is a rare thing. It’s probably something that makes me better because I am unique in that aspect. But I’m not coming out [throwing] 100 [miles an hour]. Those guys get hit, too. You changed your grip on the changeup after you were dealing with Trent Grisham, who was once your teammate.
Williams: Previously, I used to throw my changeup at two seams. I had done that my whole life. Then, we were doing live batting practice during Spring Training in 2019. I threw the changeup and Trent said he could see the spin. It didn’t look the same as my fastball. Before the next pitch, I said, "OK." I flipped it around and threw the pitch the way I threw my fastball [four seam]. I threw it and he said, "Yeah, that was pretty good." I’ve done it like that ever since. You have an awesome bullpen. You have to be proud of it.
Williams: Yeah, we do. We have a lot of new faces in our bullpen this year -- Joel Payamps, Elvis Peguero and Abner Uribe just came here recently. Hoby Milner has had an incredible year. Everyone has done their job extremely well. The Brewers are in first place. I think this team can go far in the postseason. What do you think?
Williams: I have to agree with you. Our starting staff is elite. Adding Brandon Woodruff [off the Injured List ] a few weeks ago is an incredible pick up in August. Our bullpen is really good. We are extremely good on defense. We have been able to get some timely hits. As long as we keep doing that, the sky's the limit. What was the turning point that made you think this team can go far in the postseason?
Williams: If I had to pick one thing, I would say our response to getting swept in L.A. [against the Dodgers in mid-August]. We won nine straight after that. It’s the ability to bounce back and put the past behind us. We came together as a team, played for each other. I think we have a really high ceiling. Some general topics: There aren’t many African-American closers in the game of baseball. What advice would you give Black kids who want to be like you?
Williams: I want to set a good example for those kids who are watching me, right now. As far as advice for those kids, I would say, this is a good opportunity for a lot of people. It doesn’t have to be basketball or football. Baseball is a sport they can excel in, as well. What made you like the game of baseball?
Williams: To be honest with you, I played everything as a kid. I wanted to play soccer. I almost quit baseball in the eighth grade to play soccer year round. I would play half and half. But my grandfather [Doug Mottert] wouldn’t let me play [just soccer]. He said, "If you don’t play baseball, I won’t pay for soccer." So then I stuck with baseball. Two years after that, I was getting offers [from colleges to play baseball]. I kind of made my decision from it. I’m sure you thank your grandfather now.
Williams: Yes. How does he feel about your success?
Williams: I think he is pretty vindicated in his decision to push me that way. Luckily, I had good people around me, steering me in the right direction. What do your grandparents mean to you?
Williams: They mean a lot to me. I was raised by a single mother, along with them. They had a huge role raising me from the time I was born. They made sure I had everything I needed. I felt loved and all of those things. I owe them a lot. I know you love soccer. I heard you travel out of the United States to attend soccer matches.
Williams: I would say that is my first love -- soccer. I still watch it quite a bit. For me, it’s kind of an escape. It’s something that I enjoy after the baseball season is over and start working toward the next year. [Soccer] gives me a mental break to propel me into the next season. What is it about soccer that makes you enjoy the game so much?
Williams: I like the freedom in the game. There is really no one way to do anything.