In an alternate world, one of the best relievers in baseball might have been a football player.
Well, okay, maybe that’s stretching things just a little.
As Devin Williams was planning to continue his baseball career towards the end of 2018, he came up with the idea of going back to school. And if he had continued his education, he would also have explored his eligibility to play college football.
Things have never gone this far. After posting a 5.84 Class A ERA in 2018, Williams has rebounded in a major way. The following season, at age 24, Williams dominated in the minors and earned a belated promotion to the Brewers. Then 2020 was the year of the airbender, with Williams earning National League Rookie of the Year and Reliever of the Year honors. He proved his performance in the shortened season was no fluke; last year he had a 2.50 ERA and 2.82 FIP with 87 strikeouts in 54 innings.
This season, Williams entered the Brewers’ weekend series against the Cardinals in his hometown of St. Louis with a 3.50 ERA/1.47 FIP with 33 strikeouts and 11 walks in 18 innings. When Josh Hader was on the family’s medical emergency list a few days ago, Williams completed three scoreless innings and two saves. In his last seven appearances (seven innings), he allowed just three hits, no walks and no runs with 14 strikeouts.
Those fleeting thoughts of a football career are decidedly a fantasy of the past. But Williams’ relationship with the game endured and helped him.
Disappointed with his performance and the progress of his career after the 2018 season, Williams decided to take a trip overseas.
“I just took a trip to clear my head, and it kind of became my thing,” Williams said. “I didn’t want to think about baseball. After that, I had the ’19 (season) that I had, I reached the major leagues. So, I said, ‘OK, let’s do it again.’ And then won rookie of the year, reliever of the year. At that time, it became a tradition.
“It’s an escape to get away from it all.”
After the 2018 season, he traveled to London and Paris. He saw Everton and Chelsea play at Stamford Bridge. After the 2019 season, he traveled to Switzerland and Germany and played a game for Borussia Dortmund. COVID-19 then put its tradition on hold. Williams’ 2021 regular season ended early when he went on the injured list after breaking his hand hitting a wall. Following the Brewers’ elimination from the playoffs, Williams went on her therapeutic journey. Last off-season he returned to London and this time saw Manchester United take on Manchester City.
“I really, really wanted to see Ronaldo play for Manchester United in person,” Williams said. “He was my idol when I was a kid. I love Ronaldo.”
Growing up in St. Louis, Williams said, “It was either a baseball in my hand or I was kicking a soccer ball.”
Its falls and winters were for football; the springs and summers were reserved for baseball.
“I wanted to play football all year round,” Williams said. “I was jealous of all the kids on my team who got to play all summer. I just felt like I was missing out. Honestly, it’s probably the most important sport in St. Louis.
So why did he pursue baseball instead?
“I was better at that,” Williams said with a laugh.
“Maybe I didn’t give myself enough time, who knows. Maybe I would have moved on and been really good. But people around me pushed me into baseball because that’s what they saw, that my future would be in baseball.
This is a good thing. In high school, Williams was hitting 95 mph. The Brewers drafted him in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft at Hazelwood West High in Missouri, and he’s been with the organization ever since. His football days ended after his first year.
At the time, Williams was a forward. When he allows himself to play the simulation game, a defensive position comes to mind. How good would it be?
“I don’t know,” Williams said. “I always joke with my buddy, who played in college, that I’m doing better than when I play with him and his other friends who played in college. I don’t know how good I would have been, though. I stopped playing before I was fully developed.
During the offseason before the 2020 season, before the pandemic spread to the United States, Williams’ conditioning was to play futsal – indoor soccer – twice a week.
These days, he’s mostly just a fan. For a Missouri native, it’s also a good time to be one. St. Louis City SC is an MLS expansion franchise slated to begin play in 2023. Williams said the franchise was meant to make him a super fan. He expects to receive material, but has not received any yet.
In the meantime, he hopes to continue his run as one of baseball’s best late-inning relievers, thriving in American cities as he looks forward to his off-season travels — and seeing more football — around the world. Williams’ second trip to London lasted about a week last November. The next step ? Maybe Spain and Italy.
Travel has worked well for him so far.
The plan is to keep them as routines.
That’s the point.
(Photo: Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)