During a commercial for a ticket broker that runs frequently on ESPN Cleveland (850-AM), seat-seekers are told to identify themselves as station listeners with the password Swisher.
It was a clever choice, since Nick Swisher will be the key for the 2013 Indians.
I’m not talking about home runs or RBI or slugging percentage or walks, all categories in which Swisher, the free-agent first baseman/outfielder, has ranked among the top 25 during his eight seasons in the major leagues. Michael Bourn or Carlos Santana or Chris Perez could end up being the Indians’ Most Valuable Player.
I’m talking about what the seemingly always-beaming Swisher will do for team chemistry and for the atmosphere in the clubhouse.
Swisher, 32, who oozes personality even when he’s sitting in a sterile interview room in Progressive Field, might even be able to keep outspoken closer Perez happy.
That’s not to say that a “Woe is me” or “Here we go again” feeling hung like a black cloud over the Tribe clubhouse all of last season. Former Indians manager Manny Acta was a prince of positivity, at least until the waning days. By Aug. 26, when former astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn threw out the first pitch, Acta seemed to have lost every ounce of enthusiasm, at least if an exchange in the runway to the dugout was any indication.
But the Indians need levity. They need fun. They need goofballs.
And no one seems more willing to wear the bunny ears than Swisher. Or the Martian antenna or the Mickey Mouse hat.
Last season, the young Indians acted like baseball’s version of golfers in khakis. They went about their business methodically, as if they had to get in 100 pre-round putts. They were professional, but never preposterous. Except for Perez, no one seemed willing to rock the boat and create a ripple, much less a wave.
They had character, but they needed characters.
Consider what Swisher has already done for the Indians, even before he plays his first game in a Tribe uniform Tuesday night in Toronto.
He convinced manager Terry Francona to dress up in a baby outfit.
Swisher’s teammates donned similarly silly costumes for the spring-training filming of a Harlem Shake dance video. Posted on March 13, it had more than 394,000 hits on YouTube as of Friday evening (gaining 7,000 in the past 48 hours).
“You have to have some fun,” Swisher told the Beacon Journal on the day of the filming. “We’re going through the grind of spring. We have a lot of new guys here, and we’re trying to get to know each other, establish a team identity.”
That’s not all Swisher has already given the Indians.
He’s prompted the front office to think outside the box.
That started with the ingenious idea of putting a Swisher onesie in the Tribe family room for he and wife Joanna Garcia’s unborn child during his free-agent visit. Who knows what other unusual projects might be generated now that Swisher is in the fold?
He’s helped convince disgruntled fans that the Indians are ready to spend.
Signing a four-year, $56 million contract that will earn him $11 million in 2013, Swisher wasn’t the only free agent who helped in this regard. Bourn’s unexpected four-year, $48 million deal might have carried more weight, even as Swisher’s made more of a splash. The Tribe also got a boost when a veteran like Jason Giambi, who will start the season on the disabled list, came to camp on a minor-league deal.
In previous seasons, part-time fans didn’t know the players without a scorecard. And the scorecard had better have pictures on it. Now they’re snapping up Swisher T-shirts and jerseys at an amazing pace. As of Friday afternoon, Swisher clothing accounted for 52.3 percent of all player product sold, according to the Indians.
Some of the new attitude will come from Francona. On the day the former Boston Red Sox manager was announced in Cleveland, he said, “My job is to get the players to play to their utmost ability and to care about each other on the field fiercely and start building some loyalty.”
But when Francona needs to summon that devotion and loyalty, he need not try to do it alone. Its incarnation will be holding down first base or playing the outfield. Swisher will be ready to counsel or cajole … or pull out the whoopee cushion.
Yes, the Indians’ password for 2013 is Swisher. Hopefully, it’s also the password to progress.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at https://ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.