Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, even in Ohio.
A day after Christmas and Cleveland baseball fans are still savoring what they discovered under their tree; that Ohio born Nick Swisher is now a member of the their beloved Tribe.
While the Indians might not have landed a player with the explosive thunder of Josh Hamilton or the speed and power of B.J. Upton, they nonetheless snatched a productive hitter, a switch-hitter, who at age 32 plays solid defense, is a great team player, and never shies away from taking ownership of his actions. As an added bonus to any big league organization, he’ll be tremendous asset to the community.
Responding through an email, Associated Press baseball writer Ron Blum, tells me the Indians landed themselves a great guy, who is extremely friendly, nearly always makes himself available to the media and is additionally the ``chattiest person in the clubhouse.’’
With the Yankees over the last four years, Swisher averaged 26 home runs and 87 RBI’s during the regular season. Last season, he drove in 93 runs, belted 24 home runs and finished the year with a .272 batting average over 148 games.
Yankees beat writer for Newsday, Erik Boland, says that Swisher ``was a very productive player for his four years and the Yankees will struggle to replace the numbers he put up.’’ As for his relationship with the media, Boland acknowledges Swisher is prone to occasional mood swings (who wouldn’t with a mob of New York reporters at your throat for 162 games?) but is generally very good and likes to immerse himself with projects in the community. Two projects near and dear to his heart are military veterans and donating money (and hair) to cancer victims. His grandmother, Betty Swisher died of brain cancer on August 14th, 2005.
Tyler Kepner who covers the Yankees for The New York Times, echoes Boland's sentiments, saying Swisher was excellent when dealing with members of the press; and not surprisingly will receive the ``Good Guy'' Award at The New York Baseball Writers' Association of America annual dinner next month at the New York Hilton.
If there’s a noticeable blemish on Swisher’s portfolio, it is his lack of productivity in the post-season, where he struggled mightily, hitting just .162 in 36 games. His most productive game during the playoffs may have come in Game 3 of the 2009 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies when he homered, doubled and scored two runs in the New York Yankees' 8-5 win over the Philadelphia Phillies.
Mark Feinsand, the Yankees beat writer for The New York Daily News informs me that Swisher was one of the best go-to-guys in the Yankees clubhouse, was an exemplary clubhouse guy, who always brought a positive attitude to the clubhouse and field. Feinsand additionally feels the former Yankee should be a great player on a young team. As far as assessing the talent of the Indians new acquisition, Feinsand says his [Swisher’s] arm strength is average, but accurate; and in terms of productivty, ``just look at the numbers, he's a steady producer year in and year out.''
In addition to a highly seductive and financially alluring sales pitch from Indians GM Chris Antonetti and team president Mark Shapiro, Swisher found himself tripled teamed by the likes of Ohio State Buckeye football coach Urban Meyer, former Buckeye coach Jim Tressel and current Buckeye basketball coach Thad Matta, all of whom attempted to convince the former Buckeye that the transition from the Big Apple to Northeast Ohio would be as smooth as a peeled onion without the flood of tears.
The recruiting ensemble worked their magic brilliantly.
As first reported by Mark Feinsand of The New York Daily News, Swisher agreed to a four-year, $56 million contract which calls for the former Yankee to earn $11 million next season and $15 million in each of the subsequent seasons through 2016; and if he reaches 550 plate appearances in 2016, the $14 million option automatically kicks in for 2017.
Swisher fills a mighty big hole for the Indians: patrolling right field, where he’ll replace the reliable and productive Shin-Soo Choo who was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for center fielder Drew Stubbs, shortstop Didi Gregorius and infielder Jason Donald after the Indians failed to reach a contract extension with him during the year.
Recently retired New York Times columnist George Vecsey, though still a contributor, says that Swisher ``is a gamer, takes responsibility for the team with the media, and was not a liability in right field.’’
For Cleveland fans unfamiliar with Swisher’s rituals and body language at the plate, you’ll want to notice how he raises his eyes skyward before every pitch. In fact, it’s such a subtle gesture you barely notice it unless you’re aware of the back story. Swisher lifting his eyes to the heavens is in honor of his grandparents who raised him in Parkersburg, W. Va since he was 11 years-old after his father, Steve Swisher, (a former major leaguer) and his mother Rebecca divorced. Swisher additionally has a tattoo emblazoned on his chest with angel's wings and a halo, not far from his heart with the initials "BLS," which stands for Betty Lorrain Swisher, his grandmother. It’s a touching tribute to the woman Swisher once called the ``love of my life and an inspiration.’’ Besides losing his grandmother in 2005, he lost his grandfather, Don, in November, 2008. Both of their initials are written on the bottom of the handle of all his bats, which he usually seals with a kiss just before steeping into the batter’s box.
After playing college baseball for the Ohio State Buckeyes, (where he was named Big Ten "Freshman of the Year" in 2000, was All-Big Ten at first base as a sophomore in 2001 and earned All-Conference honors as an outfielder in 2002) Swisher was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 2002 and made his major league debut on September 3, 2004, where he remained through the 2007 season. The 2006 season in Oakland was his most productive, smashing 35 home runs and driving in 95 runs, with a .372 on base percentage and a .493 slugging percentage. He spent the 2008 season with the Chicago White Sox, where he didn’t mix well with his manager, the inflammable Ozzie Guillen, hitting just .219 with 24 home runs.
The Indians, by now, are well aware that in Swisher they're getting more than just a quality player with decent power; they also acquired a model citizen who prides himself in devoting a good chunk of his spare time to multiple charitable organizations and special projects.
According to the New York Yankees media guide, beginning in 2007, Swisher established the Nick Swisher Foundation "Swish's Wishes" to assist children with life-threatening illnesses and to help lift the spirits of kids going through difficult times; during that same year, he went without a haircut for practically the entire year-so his hair could be made as wigs for women who have lost their hair to cancer treatments as part of the non-profit Pantene Beautiful Lengths program. His works of charity additionally extends to The Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF), Hollywood's leading charity and the Women's Cancer Research Fund.
In 2009, the Ohio born Swisher provided Christmas dinner for the families of children battling cancer at the Ronald McDonald House in New York. Throughout his tours of duty in Oakland, Chicago and New York, Swisher regularly invited kids to the ballpark and purchased football uniforms for his junior high school. He once dyed his goatee pink on Mother’s Day to raise awareness for breast cancer, and blue on Father’s Day for prostate cancer. Swisher and his wife, Joanna, have taken their community activism abroad as well, such as by visiting troops in a USO-sponsored trip to Germany and Afghanistan in November 2011, and participated in Strikeouts For Troops, a non-profit organization that provides assistance to wounded war veterans and their children.
In 2011, Swisher was the recipient of the Thurman Munson Award for his on-field excellence and philanthropic work within the community.
Swisher and his wife actress Joanna Garcia recently celebrated their second year wedding anniversary (December 11th) and are expecting their first child in May.
December 26, 2012