MARINERS RELIEVER PAUL SEWALD TALKS ABOUT HIS BREAKOUT SEASON, LEARNING FROM GREG MADDUX, AND LIFE AFTER NEW YORK
By Jerry Crasnick
Both of Paul Sewald’s parents are accountants, and he channeled his affinity for numbers into an accounting degree from the University of San Diego. At times in his career, when he was working side jobs in the offseason, Sewald contemplated making the shift from throwing baseballs for a living to something a little more stable.
After four up-and-down seasons with the New York Mets, Sewald signed a minor-league contract with the Seattle Mariners in January 2021. He responded with a breakout season at age 31, holding opponents to a .176 batting average and striking out 104 batters in 64 innings. Among big-league relievers, only the White Sox’ Liam Hendriks recorded more whiffs.
Scratch the accounting talk.
“Baseball was always Plan A,’’ Sewald says. “Play as long as I can possibly play and keep getting contracts next year. It’s worked out pretty well so far. My parents are more than excited that we haven't gone to Plan B.’’
In August, Sewald and his wife, Molly, welcomed their first child, a daughter named Chloe. As he prepares for the 2022 season, Sewald talked to the MLBPA about fatherhood, his Las Vegas roots, what it’s been like working with Greg Maddux, and a range of other topics. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
YOUR PARENTS ARE BOTH ACCOUNTANTS AND YOU HAVE AN ACCOUNTING DEGREE. IS THERE SUCH A THING AS AN ACCOUNTANT-TYPE PERSONALITY?
I would say yes. Accounting is very black, very white. Not a lot of gray. I feel like it kind of connects with being a reliever. You either have a good outing or a bad outing, and you can evaluate if it was a good day or a bad day at the park and go from there. So there is a little bit of an underlying, black-and-white accounting type of personality. Yes.
YOU GREW UP IN LAS VEGAS WITH KRIS BRYANT, BRYCE HARPER, JOEY GALLO AND SEVERAL OTHER BIG LEAGUERS. DO YOU ALL STAY IN TOUCH?
Absolutely. Vegas really isn't that big of a town. So everyone from Vegas kind of knows each other, hits with each other, throws together, or played together growing up. All of us have pretty much known each other for 20 years now, so I tend to root for Vegas guys as much as I possibly can. It’s great to see those guys have success -- unless it's against me when I'm pitching, obviously.
WHAT ARE YOUR EARLY MEMORIES OF PLAYING WITH KRIS BRYANT?
His older brother Nick and I played Little League and Kris ended up being on our team even though he was two years younger. He set the Little League home run record and I was like, ‘He’s pretty good.’ Then he was the best player in high school and I was like, ‘He’s really good.’ Then we were USD teammates and he was Freshman of the Year in the country and the Golden Spikes winner. He's really been good forever. It's not a surprise.
WAS HE HITTING TAPE MEASURE SHOTS AS A LITTLE LEAGUER?
You have the small stadiums where the lights are right on the field, and he hit it over the lights when the rest of us were barely scraping the wall when we hit a home run. He's always been a little bit different.
WERE YOU A GOOD HITTER BACK IN THE DAY, OR WERE YOU ALWAYS DESTINED TO PITCH?
I went to college thinking I had a better chance of playing a position at USD than pitching. My first day, I went to get my outfield glove and my bat and kind of tell them what I wanted for the season. And they said, ‘Why don't you just get a pitcher's glove for now and we’ll worry about that later?’ I didn’t realize that was going to be my last at-bat. I think it worked out pretty well for me, because my big-league hitting stats are nothing to brag about.
YOU'VE CROSSED PATHS QUITE A BIT WITH GREG MADDUX IN VEGAS. WHAT’S THAT BEEN LIKE?
We’ve known each other almost my entire life. The house that Greg lived in was right across the street from my grandparents’ house. So he would see my brother and I playing in the front yard and drive by when it wasn't baseball season, and we've had that connection forever.
It's been an amazing situation where I could go to UNLV where he’s an assistant and a pitching coach and we got to have a couple of pitching lessons together. He would talk about four or five different things in a row. And I was like, ‘Hey Greg, I'm not you. I'm a major-league pitcher but I'm no Greg Maddux. I need to focus on one or two things, not four or five or 10 things. That's why you are the greatest of all time and I'm trying to figure out how to stay a big leaguer.’
DID ANY PARTICULAR PIECES OF MADDUX WISDOM STICK WITH YOU?
When you're a kid, you think, ‘I want to see my curveball and changeup move a bunch. That’s when I know they’re really good.’ Then you get to the big leagues and you’re like, ‘I don’t want a lot of movement. I want just a little bit at the very end.’ He kind of reminded me of that. He gave me the perspective of big-league hitters. If you can see it move, big-league hitters can see it. And if you can barely see it, then they barely see it. And maybe instead of hitting the barrel, you get a little groundball. That stuck with me. I was like, ‘You're exactly right.'
ARE THERE TIMES WHEN YOU’RE TALKING TO MADDUX THAT YOU’RE IN PINCH-ME MODE?
Yeah. Every time when I'm playing catch, and I'm like, ‘Wait a second. Am I getting a pitching lesson from a top five pitcher in the history of the world?’
AS A VEGAS KID, WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO SPEND FOUR YEARS PITCHING IN NEW YORK FOR THE METS?
I have amazing memories there, as well as some that we don't need to talk about today. New York just hits you harder. It's the most populated city. It has the most media. The fans are so incredibly dedicated and they're so intense. When things are going well, there's not a cooler place in the entire world to be. And when things are not going well, it's very tough.
I had plenty of both, and unfortunately my time ended there. But I'm very thankful for every opportunity the Mets gave me. And not every fan was tough on me. There were a lot of people I'll be excited to see when we go to New York this season and play at Citi Field.
YOU'RE A GUY WHO THROWS 91-92. HOW DO YOU COME TO GRIPS WITH THAT WHEN EVERYBODY'S SO OBSESSED WITH 98-100?
I've been dealing with this for 15 years. It was the same thing being recruited in college when I only threw 86-88. I was like, ‘I can't throw hard, but I'm a pretty good pitcher. Maybe you should take that into account.’ It was hard to get drafted when I was just throwing 90 and you had all these prospects sitting at 95-97.
You can't just see me once or twice. If you see me four or five times, you’ll see that I can pitch at 90-92 just like other people pitch at 95-97. Luckily, I have incredibly rare characteristics on my fastball, so maybe my 92 looks a lot different than somebody else's 92. That's what I have to use to my advantage.
YOU TOOK YOUR PRODUCTION TO A DIFFERENT LEVEL THIS YEAR. WHAT CHANGED FOR YOU?
I give all the credit in the world to Seattle's pitching analysts, strategists, pitching coaches and the club itself. I became a free agent last year and I asked myself, ‘Where can I go and be a big leaguer and maybe I can stick?’ I had a short meeting with everybody there and I was like, ‘All right, I think they can make me a better pitcher.’
I got to spring training and we had a very long conversation. They told me, ‘This is what you've done in your career. We think if you do this more often, you will be better.’ I started throwing the ball up in the zone and tried to sweep my slider more to get depth, and once it clicked, it clicked. I took off and things were fantastic this year. I am forever grateful that it's changed the trajectory of my career.
IS THERE A CHALLENGE TO INCORPORATING ANALYTICS IN YOUR GAME WITHOUT BECOMING A CAPTIVE TO IT?
I think everyone is different. That's part of the difficulty of these amazing analytical departments that every team has. You have players who don't have Harvard, Yale or Princeton degrees, and you need to simplify it. ‘Please explain what I need to do in two sentences. Throw the ball up in the zone and sweep the slider as much as you can. Perfect. That's what I need to do.’
YOU’RE VERY APPROACHABLE ON SOCIAL MEDIA. WHAT’S YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PHILOSOPHY?
My up-and-down time in New York made it difficult for fans to really get behind me. I understand that. Seattle has taken to me with open arms, and I’m sure that having a really good season helped with that. It's fun to interact with people, and I like trying to get some buzz around the team. I think we're going to be really good again this year and surprise people even more than we did last year.
As far as family, we have a new baby girl in our lives. She’s our world, and it’s fun to just share how excited we are with everybody. We think she's perfect. So I want to show the world how great she is.
WHAT'S THE PAUL SEWALD FATHERHOOD SCOUTING REPORT?
I try to work out and throw in the morning so I can go into full dad mode the rest of the day. My wife is supermom and does it all, but it’s been such a fun time to get to play as much as possible. (Chloe) changes literally from week to week. I'm all about reading books to her and I'm trying to make her Baby Einstein before she's one. My wife rolls her eyes at that type of stuff. We have all the play kits that say, ‘This is the best thing for development.’ She’s 5 ½ months old and she’s practically in school already.
YOU HAVE A REPUTATION AS A BIT OF A ‘FOODIE.’ WHERE DO YOUR TASTES LIE?
I’m not a guy who likes to sleep until 2 o'clock and take the bus to the field. I like to get up and get moving. So for me, going somewhere for lunch or breakfast in a city or taking an Uber somewhere and checking things out is one of my favorite things about the baseball travel schedule.
My favorite food show is Guy Fieri’s ‘Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.’ I wouldn't say I'm super adventurous. If Miami has Cuban sandwiches, that’s perfect. If we go to Texas, I'm going to try barbecue. Or I’ll go to New York and have pizza. I’m like, ‘This is a famous thing in New York. This is a famous thing in Dallas. This is a famous thing in San Diego.’ That sort of thing. If there's a line out the door, it's probably going to be pretty good to try. It doesn't really matter what it is
BEYOND BASEBALL, RAISING YOUR DAUGHTER AND FOOD, WHAT KEEPS YOU BUSY?
Golf is definitely No. 1. I have an obsession with it. Once I got the bug, I couldn’t put it down.
I'm a 4 ½ handicap, but I can be a little inconsistent with the flat stick. That’s probably what I need to work on the most. The good part about living in Las Vegas in the offseason is that the weather pretty much always cooperates, so I can play whenever I need to.
WHO'S THE BEST BASEBALL PLAYER GOLFER YOU'VE PLAYED WITH?
Jeff McNeil. He played as an amateur and he was on that ‘should I play golf or should I play baseball’ train. He chose baseball, which obviously has worked out very well for him. But I would have liked to see what he could have done if he had played golf instead. He's the only player I've ever played with and I was like, ‘Yeah, I'm gonna need strokes here, because that's the only way we're gonna keep this even.’
SO WHO’S YOUR DREAM GOLF FOURSOME?
Tiger Woods obviously would be No. 1. Everyone my age puts Tiger at No. 1. Probably Justin Thomas would be on that list as well, and then John Rahm would be my third. That would be my dream foursome. That would be a pretty special day if I got to play with those guys.