Aussie goes from graffiti cleaner to Dragons pitcher
By Tom Archdeacon
He's one guy who has read the handwriting on the wall — literally and figuratively.
"When I was out of baseball, my job was going around the streets of Sydney removing graffiti," pitcher Wayne Lundgren said in his Australian accent as he sat in the Dayton Dragons dugout.
"People want to be known, so they put tags up every place. I went around on a John Deere Gator, and for big stuff we had a power hose; otherwise I had chemicals, a scourer and a sponge. Whatever it took, I had to get rid of it."
He was getting rid of graffiti back home in Australia because he hadn't been able to get rid of batters for Quad Cities, and the St. Louis Cardinals organization released him last July.
Two years earlier the Boston Red Sox had done the same, and this time Lundgren thought he'd had enough.
His fiancee — now his wife — was back in Sydney, and so were his mom and American-born dad, who had suffered a stroke that had left him paralyzed and bedridden.
"When Quad Cities let me go, I honestly thought I was done with baseball," the 6-foot-6 right-hander said. "I just wasn't having fun anymore."
Back home, he got that job, made wedding plans, bought a house and, on a lark, agreed to play second base for a no-pay Sunday league team:
"You'd show up half an hour before the game, and if you won, great, but if you lost, no big deal. But I ended up pitching, and my curveball and slider were awesome. I realized I still loved baseball. I'd found the fun again, and from that moment, everyone said I looked like a different person."
He ended up playing for a another team in the Australian championships, threw well, and the Cincinnati Reds picked him up.
Reassigned to Dayton a week ago from Sarasota, the 24-year-old Aussie is hearing some of the same queries he's had at other stops:
"Do you have a pet kangaroo? Did you live in the bush? Have you wrestled a croc?"
"I'm pretty much citified," he said. And yet, it turns out he's done something just as risky as anything you'll see out of Crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin.
He handled himself on the mound against the likes of Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Miguel Tejada and Alfonso Soriano.
Lundgren pitched for Australia in the recent World Baseball Classic and held the powerful Dominican Republic team to just one hit and one run in two relief innings.
"It was the most amazing baseball experience I ever played in," he said.
"The stadium was full of fans, mostly Dominicans waving flags, banging drums and going crazy for their team. My heart was going 100 miles an hour — I was facing some of the best baseball players in the world — and I had to calm down."
After that, throwing middle relief for the Dragons doesn't seem so daunting. He's already pitched in three games and given up just three hits and no earned runs in five innings. Friday, he threw three scoreless innings against Kane County.
"He was pretty good out there," Dragons manager Billy Gardner said. "He gave us a chance to win. That's doing his job."
And he's doing this one — just like that one in Australia — all because he knew what to do with the handwriting on the wall.