GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — Rain, wind and general gloominess reported to the Indians’ spring training camp on Wednesday, forcing the club to move batting practice and pitcher’s workouts inside.
The change seemed to ruin the day for a few players.
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Nick Swisher wasn’t one of them. In Swisher’s world, it’s 80 and sunny, not a cloud in sight.
“Hey, that’s just who I am,” the Indians first baseman said, flashing an infectious smile that never seems to fade. “I’ve been this way since I was like 6.”
Swisher, who signed a four-year, $56 million contract — the largest for a free agent in Cleveland history — this winter, has brought his endless energy and enthusiasm to the Indians, a club desperately needing an infusion of something following a painful 94-loss season.
While there’s some who wonder whether he’s putting on an act, the 32-year-old Swisher says he’s just being himself.
“It’s funny,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years, bro, and people still question it. It’s me being me — whether you like it or not.”
Swisher never stops. Just watch him for a minute in the Indians’ clubhouse.
After shedding his batting gloves and dropping them on a chair, he bounces over to the refrigerator to grab a drink. Without pause, he closes the door, spins off and heads toward the bathroom, greeting everyone he passes with a head nod, back slap or saying their nickname. Then it’s back to his locker, where he stops for a moment to do to an interview.
Not yet, though. Jason Giambi is leaving.
“All right, Big G,” Swisher hollers to his teammate. “I’ll see you later, bro.”
This is where Swisher wants to be most, hanging out with his teammates, the guys he’ll be around for most of the next eight months. And for the duration, count on him being Nick Swisher, Mr. Excitement.
“I’m going to be me every single day, and maybe I’ve just been blessed to have that inner passion for this game,” he said. “And maybe that’s why it comes out as much as it does because there’s nothing else in the world that I’d rather be doing, other than spending time with my family, than being at the ballpark.”
The Indians signed Swisher, who spent the past four seasons with the New York Yankees, for more than his outgoing personality. Desperate for power in their lineup, he gives them a legitimate home-run threat in the middle of their order, something Cleveland has lacked in recent years.
One of three AL players to hit at least 20 homers in each of the last eight seasons, Swisher has averaged 26 homers, 83 RBIs and played in 149 games per season since 2005. He has been consistent and productive, and the Indians are counting on him to keep it up.
But what they don’t want him to do is try to do anything more.
New Indians manager Terry Francona has seen players sign big contracts and feel as if they have to not only meet expectations but exceed them. If Swisher can match the .272 average with 24 homers, 93 RBIs and .364 on-base percentage, the Indians will take it.
“All he has to do is be himself, and that’s easier said than done,” Francona said. “It’s something we’ve talked about and will continue to talk about. He doesn’t have to carry the team on his shoulders, and that happens a lot of times.”
Swisher was a complimentary piece in New York, one of many star players in a galaxy of them wearing pinstripes. He was a role player.
With Cleveland, and because of the contract, he’ll have top billing — the lead.
“It’s awesome, isn’t it?” he said. “A lot of people talk about the amount of money and the contract and I understand that it’s the biggest in Cleveland’s history and I could not be more honored to be that guy. But I didn’t sign for half of what Josh Hamilton (5 years, $125 million) signed for, so it’s kind of like there’s no pressure for me. I’m just so excited to be part of this, bro.”
Swisher, who played mostly in right field for the Yankees, will play first for the Indians. The club kept him apprised of their plans as they pursued free agent outfielder Michael Bourn during the offseason, and when they landed the speedster, Swisher was more than happy to return to the infield.
“That’s my first love,” he said. “I’m a first baseman. You can stay healthy playing there. It’s like I told Tito (Francona). Whatever you need me to do. If you want to play me in right field if you want to give (Mark) Reynolds some time because we’re facing a tough lefty, fine. If you need me to DH. If (Carlos) Santana needs a day off behind the plate, I’ll catch. I don’t care, man.
“As long as I’m on the field, this is the only thing I ever wanted to do.”
Every team needs a guy like Swisher. He’s the one who keeps things loose in the clubhouse. He’s the one in the dugout who screams “Let’s Go!” when it’s called for. And, he’s the one who shows up every day ready to give all he’s got.
Giambi can relate. It’s a role he served in New York and Colorado.
“You’ve got to have a guy every day who comes in with a big smile on his face,” Giambi said. “You need that guy, especially when you’re struggling and he’s happy and having a good time. Those are the guys that push you through. It’s got to be a guy who is in the mix, and that’s what Swish is. He’s incredible.”
Swisher is savoring every moment.
He knows the number of days he’ll wear a big-league uniform are limited. He won’t take a single day for granted, and the recent passing of his mother was a reminder to keep things in perspective.
Swisher is living every kid’s dream. He doesn’t want to ever grow up.
“Why wouldn’t I enjoy every second I got? he said. “That window to play this game is so small in the grand scheme of life. If you’re not doing it with a smile on your face and having a blast doing it, bro, you need to find something else to do.”
NOTES: Brett Myers will start the Indians’ exhibition opener on Friday against Cincinnati. Francona had originally scheduled Scott Kazmir, but the left-hander wants to throw one more bullpen session before making his debut. Kazmir, who didn’t pitch in the majors has been impressive so far as he competes for a starting job. “The way he’s throwing the ball scares me,” Francona said. “I wish you could bottle it and start the season.” … RHP Joe Smith threw a 20-pitch bullpen session and continues to progress after being slowed by an oblique injury.