The prince of positivity, the sultan of smiles, the emperor of ebullience, Swisher is known across baseball for his upbeat personality. But when the Cleveland Indians' surprising run to the MLB playoffs a season ago ended with a loss in the Wild Card Game, Swisher was understandably disappointed.
So the former Ohio State baseball star and his wife, JoAnna, decided to go for a walk. The two headed to Crocker Park, a popular outdoor shopping center just west of Cleveland, to get out for a bit.
What happened next returned the nearly ever-present smile to Swisher's face. As they walked from place to place, Swisher and his wife were met by fans who were grateful that the team had returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
"Unbelievable," Swisher told BSB. "I couldn't believe it. I was like, ‘This is amazing.' That's the kind of stuff that fuels you even more because you want to win, and that just adds to it. You're like, ‘We have to win. We have to bring a championship back here to this city because it's been a long time.' This could be our time to turn it around and make it a Tribe town."
Now with a second year in Cleveland about to begin, it's fair to say Swisher's homecoming is going about as planned.
Born in Columbus and one of the best power hitters ever to put on the scarlet and gray, Swisher returned to the Buckeye State last season to much fanfare and with a major directive – help return the Tribe to the playoffs after a run of disappointing campaigns.
By that standard, year one was a success. With a 10-game winning streak to end the season, the Indians captured one of the two wild card spots. In previous seasons, the team would have earned a five-game series, but the new MLB playoff format resulted in a one-off game that the Texas Rangers won in Cleveland by a 4-0 score.
Now, the man who greets the home fans with a Buckeye salute each time he hits a home run wants to keep the momentum on the Tribe's side as the 2014 season begins tonight with a game in Oakland.
"We just want to keep it going," Swisher said. "We want to keep fighting and give it everything we've got. There's definitely some struggle time through there, but then again, we stress the word camaraderie a lot. You just have to have that and have the right leaders, guys like Terry Francona, our manager, guys like Chris Antonetti, our general manager. They back the team 100 percent. They understand the game is difficult sometimes, and to have the front office that knows that is such an amazing thing.
"I'm so happy where I'm at."
Living The Dream
Swisher plays baseball for a living – he even spent four seasons with perhaps the most glamorous team in American sports, the New York Yankees – and married an actress. By the time his current contract with the Cleveland Indians runs out, he'll have made at least $90 million in his career.
Perhaps that's why the words at the top of the graphic read "dreams do come true." The mural covers one wall in the stairway that leads to the coaches' offices at Ohio State's Bill Davis Stadium and extols Swisher's accomplishments as both a Buckeye and someone who has hit at least 20 homers in the majors for nine consecutive seasons.
"My life has been great, man," Swisher said. "It's so awesome. I've just had so much fun along the way, got to experience some amazing places. I've had some amazing opportunities, and it's been a heck of a journey. It's been a blast."
Swisher's sense of the opportunity he's taken advantage of and his unabashed enjoyment of his life is perhaps one reason why he's a man of the people no matter where he goes. For years, the cliché has said that professional baseball is a child's game being played by grown men, and Swisher seems to have never lost his enthusiasm or appreciation for the game.
That has made him incredibly popular in the Indians clubhouse, where his absence was obvious last May when he and his wife had their first child, Emerson.
"He's electric, man," Indians veteran Jason Giambi said last year. "He's what you dream about for a ballclub. He's always upbeat. He brings a lot of energy to the ballclub. The exciting part about him, it's real. It's not made up. It's not fake. He's genuine, and that's who he is. He has a big heart, and you love having him around.
"I'm telling you right now. Just the days that he missed, you could notice a difference just because he brings so much energy."
That energy transfers off the field, too, where Swisher was one of six finalists in Major League Baseball a season ago for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, which honors both performance on the field and charitable work off of it.
"It's so monster, man," Swisher said. "I think I've been in the game long enough, and it's not only what you do on the field, it's the person that you are, it's the man or the woman that you are. It's doing things the right way, being able to give back. I've been so fortunate throughout my life that I've gotten so much help along the way.
"My wife only adds to that because she thinks the same way I do. We love to help, we love to give back any time we can. To be a finalist for the Marvin Miller award, that was awesome. That was such an honor for me. Hopefully we can keep doing great things in the community. That's what it's all about."
That's one of the reasons why Swisher continues to be a favorite of Ohio State, including director of athletics Gene Smith.
"He's just a person that is 100-percent continuously positive at all times," Smith said. "I love being around the guy. I wish we could have him here more often so he could be around out student-athletes because that's the opportunity they have to fulfill their life where every day is like that. That's what you want."
Back In The Fold
Though Swisher attended high school in Parkersburg, W.Va., his Ohio ties are strong. His father, Steve, played at Ohio University before embarking on a major league career, and Nick was actually born in Columbus. When it came time to look at colleges, he didn't have many options, but the program at Ohio State – a strong one at the time under Bob Todd that had made an NCAA Super Regional in 1999 – was a fitting home.
Swisher flourished at Ohio State, as he was named a first-team All-Big Ten pick in 2001 and '02 while leading the Buckeyes to the NCAA tournament both seasons and leading the team each year in RBI with a combined total of 108. His is tied with Brian Mannino for fourth all-time in career homers, including a team-high 15 in 2001.
"I was only recruited by two schools – Ohio State and Ohio University," Swisher said. "That's it. I didn't really have a lot of choices to choose from, and we definitely made the right decision, man. Going up there and enjoying my three years there, enjoying the college life, growing up a little bit, it was just amazing. I'm so happy I could do it there, and that still carries with me now.
"I'll always be a Buckeye. I'm right next door in Cleveland doing my thing and having a blast with it."
But as Swisher's MLB career kicked off after his 2004 debut with Oakland and continued with stints in Chicago with the White Sox and New York with the Yankees, his connection to Todd's program grew apart. Then, when Ohio State hired coach Greg Beals to replace the retiring Todd after the 2010 season, he immediately recognized Swisher as someone he wanted in the fold.
"When I got the job here, I kind of embraced Nick as the feature guy for this program as we move forward," the fourth-year head coach said. "As we move forward recruiting young men, we are able to say, ‘You can come to Ohio State and you can do this. You can be Nick Swisher and you can be a big leaguer, All-Star, and do it right here in Columbus.'
"I took Nick and used him as our poster child, and he likes that, that I've embraced him as a big part of our program and of our identity as Ohio State baseball. I think he respects that and knows that what he has done is greatly respected by me and the program, and we're using him as a light for the future."
To that end, Swisher has put his money where his mouth is. Ohio State representatives, including the head coach, visited Swisher in California during Beals' first winter in charge with a question in mind – would he be the man that gave the financial push to install a much-needed artificial turf surface in Bill Davis Stadium?
"I'll never for as long as I live forget Nick's expression when we made the ask," Beals said. "He put his head in his hands and held it there for a second, and then he looked up and he said, ‘Man, I can't thank you guys enough for asking me to be involved.' That's pretty cool when you're asking for money and he's saying thanks for asking me to be a part of what you're doing.
"The neat thing is his desire to want to give back to Ohio State, something that's dear to him, and he wanted to get back involved."
Swisher recalled the situation the same way.
"It was just kind like, ‘You want me? Are you sure? You want me to be the guy that helps out?' " Swisher said. "I was so excited that I was even in that selection process. Man, what an amazing opportunity to help out and to pay it forward."
He returned to campus, then, in November 2011 for the official unveiling of the new turf, which bears the name Nick Swisher Field. His $500,000 donation was the key piece of the puzzle for the field, which allows OSU more home games and extended outdoor practice time each season.
But Swisher's donation is far from his only support of Ohio State. When he played for the Yankees – who stage spring training each year in Tampa – from 2009-12, Swisher would make it a point to visit the Buckeyes during their early-season trips to the Sunshine State each year. He stays in touch with Beals and often texts before big games, and he has met with donors along Smith.
"He's just embraced being back in our program," Smith said. "He's just easy to be with and his wife is the same way. When we asked him for the gift, it was like that (snaps fingers). He loves Greg Beals. We're glad he's in Cleveland. I just love the guy. He has so much energy. He's inspiring."
That he would be so involved is no surprise to his father.
"He cares about the university and the program and what they're doing, and it doesn't make any difference what the sport is," Steve said. "But since he played this, this is a passion. He wants those guys to understand about dreams and goals, and it's not just conversation. It's about life."
A Return To Ohio
Swisher was always a cheerleader for Ohio State, but his return to Cleveland – just 2½ hours up the road – has allowed the connection to flourish.
An immediate fan favorite with the Tribe because of his Buckeye roots and personality, Swisher embraced the Ohio connection, punctuating his team-high 22 home runs during the 2013 season by doing Ohio State's famous ‘O-H' signal to the crowd after crossing home plate after each blast.
"I love it," Beals said. "I was up there for the home opener and Tom Hamilton, their voice, who was on the field announcing the lineup, he announced him as an Ohio State Buckeye. They play ‘Hang on Sloopy' in the eighth inning, and to see Nick go out there and do the ‘O-H,' it's good stuff.
"He's a great ambassador to our program and to our athletics department. It's just fun to see him succeeding and having fun with what he's doing and living the dream and pulling Ohio State baseball with him."
By any measure, his return to his home state has been a success.
"My wife and I talk about it all the time," Swisher said. "Now that we have our little daughter, Emerson, we're definitely so happy that we made the decision (to move to Cleveland) because that's the place that we call home. We're just honored that they want us to be there. Everything has worked out great. From top to bottom, it's a great, great organization."
Swisher continues to represent the whole state through his work with the Indians. His enthusiastic persona led to the Indians dubbing one section of the outfield seats "Brohio," with tickets for the most excitable fans available for each Friday and Saturday game this season. Brohio even elected a mayor this offseason in a publicity push spearheaded by Swisher himself, and he said he wouldn't be against extending the campaign to Columbus.
"We're having fun with it," he said. "We're trying to get it out in a lot more places than just Cleveland. We should get different chapters and stuff. That would be sick. It was something that everybody wrapped their arms around and held on to last year. Hopefully we can just keep pushing and making it bigger and bigger and bigger."
Swisher is far from the only Buckeye to see major league time in recent years. Former Buckeye outfielder and pitcher J.B. Shuck carved out a full-time role with the Los Angeles Angels a season ago, and program alums Eric Fryer and Josh Edgin also saw action in the majors in 2013. Cory Luebke, who continues to rehab from arm surgery after a promising start to his major league career as a pitcher in San Diego, outfielder Matt Angle and pitchers Scott Lewis and Josh Newman have seen action in recent years.
But Swisher's name is the one that stands out from the bunch, whether it's because of his personality, his generosity, his prodigious talent or his home just up I-71 from Columbus. The way Beals sees it, he's walking, talking proof that dreams can come true through the Ohio State baseball program.
Now, Swisher's dream is to keep doing whatever he can to send the Buckeyes back to Omaha for the first time since 1967.
"Everybody knows Ohio State is a football school, but I think with what Gene has done with raising the level of every athletics event that we have, I mean, it's been amazing," Swisher said. "I think we want to be winners. We want to win in everything, bro. Who doesn't?
"I think everything that we're doing and the facilities that we have, we're starting to get a lot more out-of-state recruits than I can ever remember going to Ohio State. Everything is so great. The program is on the up and up. Dude, we're good to go."