Spring Training: Cleveland Indians
February, 13, 2013
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Cleveland Indians haven’t even held their first full-squad workout yet, and Nick Swisher is already having an impact on the proceedings at spring training camp.
Earlier this week, Swisher ventured out behind the clubhouse to thank the groundskeepers for doing such a great job getting the fields in shape. When he determined things were too quiet, he bought portable sound systems for the clubhouse and indoor batting cage. And anyone who walks past Swisher's locker in the morning risks having a football whiz past his head.
His new teammates -- even those who weren’t favorably inclined toward Swisher during his tenure with the New York Yankees -- are quickly warming to his personality. Closer Chris Perez, who lives in the same neighborhood as Swisher in Tampa, Fla., during the offseason and has played golf with him once or twice, always disliked Swisher as a Yankee because “it took him forever to get back in the box" between pitches. Now he’s a hard-core Swisher fan.
"I’m not going to lie: He was my least favorite player in the league when we faced him," Perez said. "You’d see some of his antics from across the field and you’d be like, 'Really? Is this a show?' I remember we played them once and he had a great game. He made three or four great catches, and every time he’d turn around [and look at] the fans. You’d be like, 'Come on.'
"But when you get to know him on a personal level, he’s genuine. He’s true. That’s him. He brings that energy every single day. We didn’t have that in the second half last year. It’s well-documented how bad we were, and it was kind of a dead atmosphere in the locker room. You don’t have to worry about that with him."
Swisher, who signed a four-year, $56 million contract in January, is a central piece in an offseason makeover that is generating some spring training buzz around the Indians. Michael Bourn is scheduled to take his physical exam Thursday and make his new four-year, $48 million deal complete. The Indians have also added outfielder Drew Stubbs, infielders Mark Reynolds and Mike Aviles and pitchers Brett Myers and Trevor Bauer to the mix in an active offseason for general manager Chris Antonetti.
Reynolds, Stubbs and Swisher, a switch-hitter, bring some right-handed balance to a lineup that has been predominantly left-handed in recent years. Swisher, who has averaged 26 homers and 83 RBIs a season since his rookie year with Oakland in 2005, also provides some valuable plate discipline in the middle of the order. He has a career .361 on-base percentage and is among the best in the game at working a count. Last year he ranked ninth among MLB hitters with 4.26 pitches per plate appearance.
Swisher said his first career free-agent experience, while overwhelming at times, was made easier by the knowledge that he wasn’t returning to New York. It didn’t help that he batted .162 (21-for-130) with seven RBIs in 36 postseason games as a Yankee.
"All roads kind of led to here," Swisher said. “I knew at an early stage that my days in New York were over and there wasn’t a chance of me coming back, and it was easier going about the free-agent thing knowing that wasn’t an option. I just tried to enjoy it. It’s a crazy, crazy time. It really is."
Now that the business aspect has given way to baseball, life is settling into a state of normalcy. Swisher and his wife, actress JoAnna Garcia, are expecting their first child in May, and Swisher said the Indians have treated him "like a king" since he came on board six weeks ago.
He has already shown a willingness to roll with the changes. Swisher expected to play right field when he signed with Cleveland, but Bourn’s arrival means he will be moving to first base barring a spring training trade. Swisher made 27 starts at first base with the Yankees last season, so he has a head start on the transition.
Swisher sat down with manager Terry Francona on Tuesday and told him it doesn’t matter what position he plays, as long as his name appears on the lineup card somewhere. In this, his 10th big league season, he’s not concerned about being the resident "energy guy" or veteran sounding board for the younger Cleveland players. He just wants to be a part of something positive that can last a while.
"I don’t need to be a rah-rah guy," Swisher said. "Just be yourself. I didn’t come over here to try to do too much. I came over here to have a blast and win some ballgames."
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