CLEVELAND: Nick Swisher thought he had the award locked up last season. This year, his hopes are set on it again.
The Indians first baseman wasn’t talking about a coveted baseball feat, but instead an important humanitarian award that would recognize his and wife Joanna’s visit to U.S. military stationed in Afghanistan three years ago.
Swisher learned Wednesday he’s once again one of 11 finalists for the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award. Two days later — in typical animated Swisher style — he excitedly shared why winning the award would mean so much to him.
“I had thought I had it last year being a Cleveland guy and all,” he said. “But either way, anytime your name is in the same sentence as Bob Feller’s — and everything he stood for and did for the game — it’s an honor.”
Swisher was named a finalist as a nod to the 2011 trip in which he and his wife spent Thanksgiving with military personnel in Afghanistan in 2011.
“We went with the Undersecretary of the Army on what I thought was a USO Tour,” Swisher said. “[I thought], ‘we’ll go here and to a couple bases and it will be safe.’ [But] it was nothing like that at all. We went to 14 Forward Operating Bases where the fight takes place. We spent most of the trip in helicopters going from place to place.
“Anyone can write a check, but to go face-to-face and thank them for what they do was awesome. I’m not going to lie to you, I was scared [to death]. But just to be able to have the honor and privilege was amazing. … You land full geared up and run until you get into the safe zone. One of the soldiers with an AK asked me what I was doing there. He was like, ‘no one has ever been here.’ I think he meant a celebrity. It was definitely intense, but something I’m proud of doing.”
The finalists were recognized by Feller’s widow, Anne, along with representatives from the United States Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard before the start of Friday’s game. Today, Quilts of Honor East are scheduled to present Swisher and Royals designated hitter Billy Butler with quilts in recognition of supporting the troops.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.