- Thomas Neumann, ESPN.com
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Nick Swisher is perhaps the most exuberant player in the major leagues.
Brimming with confidence and enthusiasm, the Yankees outfielder is extremely popular among teammates and extremely unpopular among opponents. He’s an ebullient spark plug, the kind of player who makes Yankees fans exult and opposing fans curse.
He was the first pick of the Athletics in the "Moneyball" draft of 2002. After four seasons in Oakland and one with the White Sox, he won a World Series with the Yankees in 2009 and appeared in the All-Star Game the following year. Prior to his professional career, Swisher was twice named first team All-Big Ten at Ohio State.
Swisher spoke with ESPN Playbook about Red Sox fans, music and the pressure of playing in New York while making the rounds promoting the Head & Shoulders Mane Man Challenge. Here's what transpired:
Playbook: You were a standout football player as a safety at Parkersburg (W.Va.) High. Which colleges were recruiting you?
Swisher: I had a whole heap of football letters, but I didn’t have too many baseball letters. More than anything, I was a monster Notre Dame fan growing up. To be able to get that Notre Dame recruiting letter was by far one of my favorite things.
Why did you choose to pursue baseball at Ohio State instead of football after high school?
I went on my first recruiting trip to West Virginia, right there in my back yard. I wanted to check it out and see what it was all about. ... I went to a game and walked into the locker room after the game. I’d never seen guys that big in my life. So we walked in, and I looked at my dad and said, “That baseball thing is looking really good right about now.”
Which team do you dislike more -- the Boston Red Sox or the Michigan Wolverines?
I think I’m gonna have to say the Michigan Wolverines. More than anything, I’m such a rivalry guy. I love those rivalry games. ... I love to see Ohio State play Michigan. I think that’s what it’s all about, because in those rivalry settings you can throw records out the window. Because you’re going to get the best of both teams every single time you play.
How are Yankees fans different from Red Sox fans?
I guess I’m a little biased in saying that I think our fan base is a lot stronger. I get to run out to right field every single day in Yankee Stadium. We’ve got our Bleacher Creatures. You can feel that love when you take that field, man. It’s an amazing thing. No offense to Red Sox fans – they have a great following as well – but that Yankees Universe, in my opinion, is unmatched.
You were named the third-most hated player in baseball in a recent poll of 100 major leaguers -- behind only A.J. Pierzynski and Alex Rodriguez. What do your peers have against you?
Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. That’s not really something I stress a lot about. I know what I bring to the table, and I’m just going to continue to go out there and keep being myself.
Who was your favorite athlete growing up and why?
I’d probably be in a lot of trouble if I didn’t say my father [former major league catcher Steve Swisher]. My dad has been my hero and my mentor. He’s taught me everything I know about this game. I’ve been so fortunate to be a second-generation baseball guy and to learn the game at an early age, and I think it helped me get to this level. Just to have him in my life means the world to me.
You released an album for children last year featuring cover songs of artists such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Tom Petty. What are some things you listen to that might surprise people?
I love music in general. There are so many different genres that I like listening to. I’m a country guy. I’m an R&B guy. I’m a pop guy. I listen to some rap. ... When I had the opportunity to do that album, I jumped on it. Because I’m not just a baseball player. I have so much fun doing so many different things. I feel, as an athlete, you do get put on a pedestal, and you are able to do some amazing things. For me, I’m gonna jump at those opportunities, because I don’t wanna be sitting in a rocking chair somewhere when I’m 60 years old wishing I would’ve done something. I’m gonna have a blast with it, and I’m gonna have fun.
If you could jam with any musician in the world, who would it be?
I’ve done it before, and I think I’d have to say my boy, Kenny Chesney. We have so much fun. He’s got such a good sound. We all get together and jam out, and we have a blast.
You pitched a scoreless inning in your only major league pitching appearance. Have you considered lobbying Joe Girardi for more opportunities?
There was an opportunity we had this year, and [Dewayne] Wise got that call. We were laughing about it after the game, seeing if there are any other teams in the big leagues that have two outfielders with a combined 0.00 ERA. ... You’ve gotta remember, I’m used to standing 250-260 feet away from the baseball. The next thing you know, you’re standing 60 feet away from it, and man, it’s scary. I mean, these are some big, big men who are swinging -- and I mean swinging hard -- and the last thing I want is a line drive going right back up the box.
Compared to your experience playing for the A’s and White Sox, how much more pressure is there playing for the Yankees?
I think Charles Barkley once said, “Pressure is something you put in your tires.” Either way, I enjoy what I do. I love what I do, and every time I take that field, I feel like a little kid. Brad Fischer, who was my bullpen coach when I was in Oakland, early in my career, had one of the greatest quotes I’ve ever heard. He said, “As long as you put on that uniform every day, you have a lifetime pass to be a kid.” It’s so true. We’re a bunch of grown men playing a kid's game and having a blast doing it. ... I show up to the ballpark and do what I’m capable of doing, and when I go out and give it my best, I can go home and sleep at night.
Do you think some players aren’t able to play to their potential because of the scrutiny in New York? Or is it a myth?
I don’t know. I’ve heard a couple different things about New York. You thrive in New York or you dive in New York. I think that there’s a lot of things we have to handle that not a lot of other teams do. But then again, there’s great things that New York has that not a lot of cities have as well. So you’ve gotta deal with the bad, but the good, in my opinion, definitely outweighs anything bad that can happen here in New York.
You’ve already won a World Series. Aren’t you worried there won’t be anything left to accomplish professionally if you win the Mane Man Challenge?
If I win the Mane Man Challenge, I might have a ticker-tape parade for myself.
Nick Swisher is competing against Ivan Rodriguez and Dennis Eckersley in mind-blowing feats of awesomeness in the Head & Shoulders Mane Man Challenge. Click here for more details.