Welcome to the bigs
Notes from around the big leagues, including the hazing of Nick Swisher, a George Costanza sighting and more.
Swisher's swagger is openly acknowledged by veteran A's, who immediately sought to humble their newest teammate with roughly $1,500 in kangaroo court fines upon his arrival. The infractions ranged from the sublime, ($1,000 for taking the team bus to the park, something no self-respecting major leaguer would be caught dead doing) to the ridiculous ($100 for making it to the majors for his "ability to work the count"). Swisher, of course, got the obligatory shaving cream pie during the postgame interview after Saturday's game-winning, eighth-inning homer.
As Swisher sees it, his demeanor is merely confidence in his abilities, not cockiness. He was reminded of his humble beginnings two years ago with A's fans asking for autographs on pictures of him in his Modesto A's uniform; one asked him to sign a box of Swisher Sweets cigars, which, remarkably, was the "first time that's happened." The prized rookie will be impossible to live with if he continues to make his baptism in the big leagues look so easy, with a tie-saving, diving, extra-inning grab in last Friday's loss, and big hits and crucial at-bats in the heat of a pennant race. Last Saturday's homer followed one by Bobby Crosby and produced one of the great stats of the year from Elias Sports Bureau. Crosby and Swisher were the first rookies to hit back-to-back homers that late in a game, including a game-winner, since Joe "Big Foot" Ferguson and Ron Cey with the 1973 Dodgers.
The A's were suitably impressed, and while Crosby is still technically a rookie himself and too busy getting wide-eyed over a long discussion with Joe Morgan about pivoting on the double play to join in the hazing, Swisher's not without an aw-shucks quality himself. Whether it's getting excited over meeting a mere mortal in the form of a former "Baseball Tonight" host, or describing how he checks in every day with his teammates on the Sacramento Rivercats to see how they're doing without him in pursuit of the Pacific Coast League title, Swisher's still very much a 23-year old. He was called into Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco's office on a weekday afternoon and asked if he was ready for the Las Vegas pitcher that night. Swisher thought he was, but "Tony D" started saying the guy was a lot like Ted Lilly. "Ted Lilly, what's this guy got to do with Ted Lilly?" Swisher wondered. "Well, that's who you better get ready for, because that's who you're facing tomorrow night in Toronto," DeFrancesco deadpanned. When it finally sank in, Swisher could hardly contain his euphoria. His first call was to his father in Parkersburg, W.Va. That's another reason Nick's notoriety preceded him. Steve Swisher caught for the Cubs and Cardinals, and surprised Nick by coming north for his major league debut in Canada.
What Nick wants more than anything is for his beloved grandma Betty to see him in a big league uniform in person. Battling a serious illness, she's not well enough to leave Parkersburg yet, and his father is back there now tending to his mother. Less than a month after Nick was born, his dad was traded from the Cardinals to San Diego in the Rollie Fingers-Gene Tenace-Terry Kennedy trade. Steve Swisher retired by the time Nick turned two in 1982, but any time he wants to re-live his father's big league playing or coaching days, he strolls through the den of the house in Parkersburg to view the memorabilia. Nick's adding to it now with the balls from his first major league hit and home run. When I asked him to name his favorite item from his dad's collection, Nick said the ring from Steve's 1976 All-Star appearance as the lone Cubs representative. Nick's dream is to one day have one of his own. Nick isn't the only Athletic that Steve Swisher has helped get to the majors. When he was named manager of the Mets' Triple-A team in Norfolk, Swisher tapped just-retired utility infielder Ron Washington to be his third base coach. A coaching position that significant just wasn't given to a man with no experience, but Swisher knew Washington had an instinct for it and made the bold move, which "Wash" has never forgotten. Thirteen years later he is one of the most respected coaches in the game, a central figure in "Moneyball" himself, and a staff member Billy Beane considers "indispensable."
Gary Miller is a reporter and play-by-play announcer for ESPN's major league baseball coverage.
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