CLEVELAND: The Indians haven’t had a character like Nick Swisher on the roster since … did Chevy Chase ever play for the Tribe?
No he didn’t and it would be difficult to recall anyone on the local sports scene with the upbeat demeanor and irrepressible personality of Swisher, who was introduced to the media Thursday at Progressive Field.
If Northeastern Ohio fans are skeptical about a guy with Swisher’s resume preferring to play in Cleveland, be apprised that he isn’t just happy to be here, he’s THRILLED TO BE HERE AND COULDN’T IMAGINE A BETTER PLACE TO PLAY.
The fact that Terry Francona was hired to manage the Tribe a few months ago didn’t hurt.
“You kind of look around at the league and kind of see how it’s broken down,” Swisher said. “You want to push toward the thing that really excites you.
“When Terry signed — you don’t bring a guy like this in here unless you plan on winning — having that sort of captain of your ship, that guy who’s proven, who knows how to manage the right way — it was a very easy decision for me.”
But there was something more fundamental — maybe a part of Swisher’s soul — that made the Indians his inevitable choice. Granted, a four-year guaranteed contract worth $56 million with an additional $14 million vested option for a fifth-year certainly was persuasive. But it’s probable that Swisher could have negotiated a similar deal elsewhere.
“We wanted to go somewhere we were going to be wanted and where we were going to be loved,” Swisher said. “And they showed all of that. So we’re excited to have this opportunity. We are so blessed with this situation.”
General Manager Chris Antonetti reciprocated in explaining his excitement at signing Swisher.
“I’m not sure we could have found a more perfect complement for the team and for the organization,” Antonetti said. “It’s not only his talent but the way he plays the game.”
Swisher was born in Columbus but grew up in Parkersburg, W. Va., only a few miles from the Ohio border. He was recruited by two colleges to play baseball: Ohio University and Ohio State. He chose Ohio State and began a love affair that has lasted well over a decade. Swisher donated $500,000 to the renovation of the Buckeyes’ baseball field, which now bears his name.
Not surprisingly, considering his zeal to play for the Tribe, Swisher has pledged $400,000 toward Cleveland Indians Charities during the life of his contract.
He probably was recruited more heavily by the Indians than by Bob Todd, his coach at OSU.
“Coach would never have thought I’d be here,” said Swisher, describing his relatively low status coming out of high school.
Swisher was accompanied to the press conference by several family members, including his father — former big leaguer Steve Swisher — his agent, and his wife, JoAnna Garcia-Swisher, who played the lead in the TV series Animal Practice, which was recently canceled. For Garcia-Swisher, the timing was fortuitous, because she is expected to deliver the couple’s first child in May.
Contract negotiations seem to have gone smoothly. In fact, by the time Swisher made his visit to Cleveland little more than a week ago, “It was just about a done deal,” he said.
Even though Swisher will be one of the newest Indians, he will be expected to take a leadership role in the clubhouse by virtue of his experience and his accomplishments.
Asked if welcomed these kind of expectations, Swisher said, “Absolutely. Who doesn’t want to be in that role?”
Swisher sees no adjustment period from coming from the New York Yankees, a star-studded team that assumes it can win a World Series every year, to the Tribe, which has to scratch and claw for every win.
“We have a great core of young guys,” he said. “This is a team that wants to win and has the ability to win. Bringing in Terry Francona is a major key. I think it’s the ultimate goal here to bring it back to the ‘90s when everything was rocking and rolling, when the ballpark was the place to be.”
Bottom line for Swisher: “You can fight it all you want, but this is the place for me.”
Someone had to be lopped off the 40-man roster to make room for Swisher. Drawing the short straw was Thomas Neal, who was designated for assignment.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.