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Hustling Runs In Swisher's Baseball Bloodlines
by Todd Traub
When Nick Swisher was a boy tagging along with his father through the minor leagues, he used to catch a seventh-inning nap on the bat rack in the dugout.
Watching Swisher these days, you wonder if he's slept since then. The highly animated Swisher just finished his first full pro season since the Athletics drafted him 16th overall out of Ohio State in the 2002 draft. He began the 2003 season in high Class A Modesto, then earned a promotion to Double-A Midland in early June. From there, he headed off to the Arizona Fall League to play for Mesa, and went 0-for-4 last night as the league opened play.
The hectic schedule hasn't phased Swisher. He remembers visiting the ballpark as a 6-year-old when his father Steve was coaching with the Jackson Mets.
"The stories I could tell you about being around pro baseball, it's unbelievable," Swisher said. "That's all I know; that's the only thing that I know how to do."
It certainly runs in the family.
Steve Swisher was a first-round draft pick by the Cubs and was an all-star catcher with the club in 1976. He also played for the Cardinals and Padres in a big league career that ran from 1974-82.
Nick said he had always admired players who hustled--like his father--and thus the pattern for his own approach to the game was set. Maybe that's why this season has been so frustrating. Swisher brought his characteristic hustle and energy to Double-A, but didn't get the results he was used to.
After getting five hits in his first four games with Midland, Swisher watched his average decline until it bottomed out at .211. From college to Rookie ball to Class A, Swisher had become used to success, and his young-man-in-a-hurry approach had never let him down before.
"I got called up and I was really excited and I started off swinging the bat well," said Swisher, who hit .230-5-43 with twice as many strikeouts as walks and a .324 on-base percentage in Midland. "Now it's just one of those things where you've come to the point in your life where it's the first time you've struggled.
"I talked to my dad about this and he said, 'Hey Nick, it happens to everybody'."
Swisher said playing in college a maximum of four to five times a week didn't prepare him for the daily grind of professional baseball. But he doesn't regret his choice to play at Ohio State.
Swisher said he never got a shot coming out of high school in West Virginia, despite hitting a state-record 17 home runs in one season. As a sophomore with the Buckeyes, Swisher tied for the Big 10 lead with 15 home runs and had 10 as a junior as he recovered from a broken wrist. The whole package made the A's take notice.
Swisher was part of the draft class profiled in "Moneyball," Michael Lewis' book on general manager Bill Beane's approach to building the A's. The book takes readers into Oakland's draft room and follows several of the draft picks to their new teams. Swisher was clearly the A's first choice and was taken with the first of the organization's seven picks out of the draft's first 39 slots.
Lewis paints a portrait of a defiant, confident Swisher as he moves from short-season Vancouver to high Class A Visalia, where his and catcher Jeremy Brown's acceptance was apparently slow in coming.
"It was my first year and I really wanted to show everybody that that's where I should be at that point," said Swisher, who admitted a little difficulty in handling practical jokes. "Some things happened, and that's one of those things where I took it the wrong way. I should have been a lot less angry about it but at the time I didn't know what to do."
Swisher hit .250-2-12 in 44 at-bats with Vancouver and batted just .240-4-23 in 49 games after he was promoted to Visalia. But the A's liked his strike-zone knowledge (39 walks combined), power potential and defense, and he began this season at Modesto.
When he was promoted to Midland on June 8, Swisher was hitting .296-10-43 with a .418 OBP. He said he started this season with a better attitude, but the adjustment to Double-A showed him he still has work to do on the field.
Swisher had been known to overdo his pregame workouts, especially after moving from first to the outfield. He couldn't help hustling after every fly ball when only a few good reads would be enough to prepare him for the night's game.
"It's a maturing process," Swisher said. "You've got to learn what you can handle and what you can't. I'm used to going 110 percent all the time and sometimes you've got to learn to cut it back a little bit."
Defense The Question
After being in the thick of things in the infield, Swisher must also adapt to the isolation of the outfield. Swisher, touted as a center fielder in "Moneyball" by Beane, profiles better as a corner outfielder according to Texas League managers.
"He has pretty good tools and switch-hits, but he's not a center fielder," one manager said. "He has a good idea of how to play.
"I know he whined a lot. He acts like pitches he takes can't be a strike."
Swisher played 98 games in center field and 14 in corner spots, and his arm and instincts project him as an above-average defender in the corners.
"The outfield is definitely a different scenario," Swisher said. "Just because of the fact that if you strike out or something, then you've got three outs to sit out there and just think about it. And that's what I'm trying to work on is not think about stuff like that."
The A's will no doubt give their first-rounder every chance to succeed. That includes his assignment to the AFL this year.
"I'm super excited about that," Swisher said. "The competition level is going to be unbelievable."
And then Swisher is going to go home to West Virginia and force himself to relax. Just don't expect him to relax for very long.
"I'm probably a little too hard on myself but that's just how I am," Swisher said. "I'm not going to change. It's just one of those things where you look up on that scoreboard and see you're hitting around .215 or something, it's definitely not where I want to be. But I know that this is going to help me down the road."