The Oakland A's took three days to do it, but they finally got over the hump and clinched their…
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In each issue of Bucknuts The Magazine, we have in-depth features on Ohio State football players, coaches and prospects. We also have analysis pieces on the Buckeyes as well as their opponents, the Big Ten and college football world in general. Plus, we have features on OSU athletes in a variety of sports, including men's and women's basketball, hockey, wrestling, baseball and other sports.
Headline: Swisher Sweet
By Dave Biddle
(From October 2006 issue)
However, one former Buckeye who is breaking that trend is Oakland Athletics first baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher.
Swisher, 25, has emerged as one of the young stars in the American League. Through 116 games this season, he was batting .254 with 25 home runs and 70 RBI. His average was much higher earlier in the season, but a bout with mono which caused him to drop 15 pounds might have led to a mid-summer slump.
However, Swisher is enjoying his place as an everyday starter and run-producer for the A's, who were 67-52 and led the AL West by 5.5 games over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at press time.
"It's one of those things this year that this is the most fun I think I've ever had playing the game of baseball," Swisher said. "For me, I'm taking it as less of a do-or-die thing. If I have a bad game, so what, tomorrow is coming. And if I have a good game, so what, because I have to come back and do it again the next day. I think a better focus on the mental aspect of the game has really helped me and hopefully I can keep it going."
Following his outstanding three-year career at Ohio State (2000-02), Swisher was a first-round draft pick (No. 16 overall) by the A's in June 2002. (In fact, nearly an entire chapter of the book "Moneyball" was dedicated to the A's decision to draft Swisher.)
He cracked the big leagues for the first time in 2004 and batted .250 with two home runs and eight RBI in 60 at-bats.
The 2005 season was his first full season in the majors and Swisher made a solid impact. He batted .236 with 21 home runs and 74 RBI and also proved to be a good defensive right fielder.
Swisher had excelled at baseball his entire life. But it wasn't until that 2005 season that it occurred to him he could have a long career in professional baseball.
"I think it was last year when I started to catch a little bit of fire towards the middle of the season," he said. "And the thing I noticed was that it is not much different that any other level of baseball. I mean, it is, because of the talent level, but you're here for a reason. You're here because they think you have the talent and you're capable of doing things. The biggest thing is to keep your mind right and keep everything on an even keel.
"Every day, you've got to go out and be consistent with what you do. With the different types of pitchers that are around the league – righthanders, lefties, sinker ball guys, cutter guys, guys with good breaking balls – each day you are going to go up against something different. With the technology that we have now with guys on film and the numbers all over the place, you kind of have a feel for what a guy is going to do before he does it."
Following a move to first base, Swisher came out on fire to begin the 2006 season. Through mid-May, he was batting over .308 with 13 homers and 35 RBI.
"I think that first month, that was the best start I could ever hope for," Swisher said. "Things turned out really well. And right now, us as a team, hopefully we can get the snowball effect and pick up some wins. Hitting is contagious. Once one guy starts, another guy is going to start and so on and so on."
Despite playing just three seasons of college ball, Swisher's name is all over the record books at Ohio State. He is No. 3 all-time in walks with 131, No. 4 all-time in home runs with 35 (each of the players above him played four years), No. 9 all-time in RBI with 156 and No. 12 in runs scored with 154.
Swisher, the 2002 Big Ten player of the year, is simply one of the best players to ever suit up for OSU coach Bob Todd.
"I haven't really talked to him much," Swisher said of his former coach. "I follow the team throughout the season to see how they are doing, but I don't really have too many ties back there. I don't really know too many people there anymore. But I always keep an eye on how they are doing.
"And I follow Ohio State football very religiously. I'm Scarlet and Gray all the way through."
Swisher only spent parts of three seasons in the minor leagues, but he doesn't hesitate when asked to name the best part of playing in the big leagues.
"I think there's no doubt about it: the spreads after the game – the food – and the travel," he said. "You don't have to take those 18-hour bus rides somewhere. You just hop on a charter plane and you have leather recliners and off you go."
So the horror stories about long trips in the bush leagues are true?
"Yeah, in Rookie ball, A-ball and double-A, the travel is pretty bad," Swisher said. "A lot depends on if you have to double-up with somebody, or if you can sit by yourself. And there's other things like who is going to carry the beer on the bus or the bullpen bags, or this and that. The more you keep moving up, the less you've got to do."
Swisher is becoming a star in the Bay Area. He likes going out and being anonymous, but those days are nearly over.
"People are starting to recognize me when I go out and I'm not used to that at all," he said with a laugh. "People are starting to notice and people keep tabs on what you're doing and you've got to watch yourself if you plan on doing this or that."
Swisher would like nothing more than to stay in Oakland long-term. The A's have a good young nucleus, including three excellent pitchers in Barry Zito, Rich Harden and Dan Haren.
"I think the A's organization has been based on pitching for some time now and we have some damn good ones," Swisher said. "But if you look at our lineup from top to bottom, I think we have the hitters to do well. If we can keep grinding out every at-bat, every pitch, every inning, I think we have the personnel to do some very special things."
Most baseball players are superstitious to the point that they would wear the same socks and underwear for two weeks if they were hitting well. And while Swisher has the rock star look with the long hair, you won't find him wearing dirty clothes just to get an extra hit.
"I wouldn't call myself superstitious," he said. "I have my routine though. I get to the ballpark around 1 or 1:30. I sit down in the video room with the guys and kind of B.S. around, I grab something to eat, go out and have early hitting at 3:15 and it's the same thing I've been doing every year. Our hitting coach Gerald Perry says, ‘Your swing is like a blade. If it's dull, ain't no good to you.' So, you've got to keep sharpening that blade and keep working on things and not necessarily things that you are good at. For me, I've got to work on things I struggle with. In this game, if you have a weakness, people are going to pound that weakness until you make an adjustment."The one biggest thing that I've been working on is hitting the off-speed pitch. And I think I've done a pretty good job of that. I also would like to hit better with runners in scoring position. For me, the biggest thing that I need to work on is my mind, my mental state of the game. Because in my mind, I think I have the talent. I just have to get my mind right every day and not take things for granted."