Taylor Williams is still in shock that he is now considered a big leaguer, something the 26-year-old Camas High School graduate had always envisioned.
But he wasn’t quite sure what the future had in store for him after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August of 2015 to repair a ligament injury in his right elbow that sidelined him for the rest of that year and all of 2016.
“I wasn’t about to give up that easy,” said Williams on undergoing the Tommy John surgery. “It wasn’t an option. I needed to come back stronger and prove to myself and others that I was able to prove myself and what I was made of.”
Williams hurt his elbow during spring training in March of 2015 and spent the next five months trying to rehab it before getting surgery.
Williams had worked too hard, for too long, for this once in a lifetime opportunity to just vanish into thin air. So he pushed himself to the limit to get back into prime shape and back to his sanctuary — the mound.
Williams, made his Major League Baseball debut on Sept. 6 with the Milwaukee Brewers. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound hard throwing right hander retired both Cincinnati batters he faced in the eighth inning during his team’s 7-1 loss.
“I will always cherish that moment and getting in my first big league action on the road,” he said. “Obviously it would have been a better feeling had we won.”
Williams was thrilled and overwhelmed for the September call-up, especially in the thick of the playoff race, where the Brewers ultimately fell just short.
“September was my first timing being called up. It is amazing to be able to check that accomplishment off the list and take all of it in,” said Williams, who looks to be a part of the Brewers bullpen next year. “Like I said before, it is kind of like the beginning to further goals and dreams. Now it is about working even harder so I can stay at that level and be successful for a long time.”
According to Williams, those two years off from baseball was a great time for some serious soul searching.
“It was for sure a challenge, especially when you’re moving in that point in your career that things are starting to look up,” he said. “Sitting out those two years was very difficult. I had never sat out at anytime in my career. But it made me see things from a different and better perspective. I learned so much about myself those two years off… Baseball isn’t who I am, but it’s what I do. Ultimately those were two good years of my life and made me not just a better baseball player, but a better person.
Williams set the bar high when he returned from injury. He wanted to prove to himself and the Brewers organization that he was the real deal and still a top-rated player in their system.
“I wanted to achieve big goals from my return from injury,” he said. “Some people might think it’s crazy that I actually thought after two years off that I would have a chance at making the big league roster. But I really wanted to strive for it. It was a struggle at first during the minor league season because I had to relearn the mental aspect of pitching.”
In baseball, change can come fast.
“One day I am playing in Mobile, Alabama and the next day you’re in the pros, “he said. “I am extremely honored and grateful to represent Vancouver and Northwest baseball players in general. It’s nice to represent where I came from. That is an honor in and of itself. Not everyone gets this opportunity. Not a lot of guys get this chance and would love to be in my shoes.”
While at Camas High School, Williams lettered all four years under head coach Joe Hallead. He was named to the first team all-league his final three seasons, and as a senior was named Columbian All-Region Player of the Year and First Team All-State.
Williams, who first attended Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Ore., was later drafted in the fourth round (122nd overall) out of Kent State University in 2013. He couldn’t be more thankful for the way things have started to fall into place for him after all of the unknowing that comes with this cutthroat industry. He believes that the sky is the limit though, as long as the injury bug stays clear away from him.
“I plan on sticking around this game for a while,” said Williams. “I really enjoy playing for the Brewers organization. They have been amazing.”
Facing a legend
Williams was like a little kid in a candy shop got to face his favorite player growing up — Ichiro Suzuki — when the Brewers took on the Miami Marlins on Sept. 19. He said the feeling was beyond surreal and a dream come true, though he admits he was a bit nervous.
“When I faced Ichiro that was an unreal experience,” said Williams. “I grew up a die hard Mariners fan. My parents would drive me up to the Kingdome and Safeco to watch games. We would go early for batting practice, stay late for autographs, trying any way possible just to interact with the players.”
How did Williams matchup with Ichiro?
“Had him 0-2. Hung a slider. Luckily he hit a kind of a soft line drive to the shortstop (for the out),” said Williams. “Facing Ichiro, someone I idolized as a kid and watched for a long time… That was a special moment.”
Though, he quickly added that all of these players in MLB are the best-of-the-best in the world. “I have a lot of respect for all of those guys up at that level,” said Williams. “They are all there for a reason. They are all unique talents and great people with unreal perspective and work ethic.”
Surviving a setback
The very thought of life without baseball wasn’t an option for Williams though. Nothing was going to get in his way, not even a two year setback that would drive most players crazy.
“That was for sure a tough time in my life not being able to play the game I love,” said Williams reflecting on his injury. “But I busted my tail off to get back into prime shape and make a run at this. I am so thankful for everything that everyone has done for me in preparing me for this moment.”
Williams thanks his support system — mainly close family, including mom, Lois, dad, Kelly and his two older sisters, Lindsay, 30 and Jessica, 33 and friends, along with the entire Brewers organization and fanbase for never giving up on him. On top of that, he says his arm feels “100 percent” these days. His average fastball sat at 95.21 MPH this season.
“I feel great right now,” said Williams about his arm and moving forward. “I have learned a lot about my mind and body as they relate to one another this past year.”
They sure do go hand in hand, especially since pitching on such a big stage as a rookie can be nerve racking at first. However, Williams feels quite comfortable with his routine on the bump.
Williams said one of the highlights of his young career so far has been the simple fact that his support system has been a major factor in his early success.
“I’d say one of the best parts of having this experience was sharing it with my family when they came to visit,” said Williams. “(My family) have given me nothing but the best support I could possibly ask for and stuck by my side through all the ups and downs. Making them proud is one of the most important goals for me in life.”
Williams, a self proclaimed mama’s boy quickly added, “My parents are both extremely amazing, they’re hands down my best friends as cliche as that might sound. I spend more time with them during my down time then anyone else. They gave me everything I needed and wanted growing up. They drove me all over Washington, Oregon and flew to places like California just so I could play baseball. If it weren’t for them, none of this would have even been possible.”
During his small stint this year with the Brewers, Williams, tossed 4.2 innings with four strike outs in five appearances, to go along with a 1.93 ERA. Prior to getting called up to the majors, he appeared in 22 games for the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers, posting a 3.09 ERA, while fanning 57 batters in 46.2 innings.
“It was an amazing experience overall (being called up this year in limited action),” said Williams. “Especially because the Brewers drafted me and they have invested so much into me with surgery, getting me healthy again, and blessing me with this amazing opportunity. I have equally invested myself back and it was an honor to just wear the jersey and be on that field and at the highest level.”
At this rate, Williams, as long as he stays healthy, cliche as that sounds, hopes to have a long and decorated career in MLB. He knows his journey has just started, but has high hopes sticking around this game as long as he possibly can. He’s hoping for a long career with the Brewers, who seem to be headed in the right direction with great young talent and solid veterans.
“All of the work has payed off so far, although this is only the beginning of my dreams and goals of what I want to achieve in baseball, life and for the for years to come,” said Williams. “I plan on doing everything in my power to get better in all aspects of my game and in life to stay in the Big Leagues, with the hope to help the Brewers win for years to come.”
Williams said one of the highlights of his job is the interaction with the diehard fans. He said he’s just getting used to signing lots of autographs. “It isn’t too bad. As a young guy coming up a lot of fans are still unfamiliar with who you are, so you don’t sign a ton of autographs,” said Williams. “Signing autographs is a great way to interact with our fans.”
Williams is still in a world of shock and is still riding on cloud nine for the time being.
At the end of the day, Williams considers himself an easy going and down to earth “regular” guy. “I’m really just a normal weird dude,” he added with a chuckle.”
For now, Williams is taking everything in stride and knows that on any given day this game could be taken away from him. But he’s not going to worry about that too much. Instead he’s going to enjoy the ride.
“Nothing is ever guaranteed in this game or life,” said Williams. “All you can do is control what you can on a day to day by living in the moment.