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Headline: Swisher Sweet
National Football League is littered with former Ohio State players, the same
cannot be said for Major League Baseball.
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
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
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
“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.”