Swisher, Tribe proved to be perfect fit in no time
Veteran's presence undeniable as club looks to build on breakout 2013 campaign
Walk into the Cleveland Indians' Cactus League clubhouse at Goodyear Ballpark and you'll find the room populated by any number of guys, all at various stages of their careers.
But before long, one voice will rise against the rest.
You'll come to recognize it from around the corner and across the room.
It will be loud and infused with energy, just like its owner.
Indians fans appreciate Nick Swisher for his passion and gritty style of play. His teammates admire Swisher's veteran clubhouse presence. The organization values Swisher's capacity to become the face of a resurgent Tribe club. Reporters like that Swisher can talk at length, and provide quality quotes, on almost any subject.
Swisher is a Columbus, Ohio, native. So when the opportunity presented itself for Swisher to return to his roots ahead of the 2013 season, he jumped at the chance for a homecoming of sorts.
"For me, going through a free-agency process for the first time in my life, I didn't really know how that was going to go," Swisher said. "But after we went to all the different places and met everybody, the front office here in Cleveland -- bringing over a guy like Terry Francona, who is absolutely just the greatest guy on the planet -- that definitely makes an athlete want to come to a city.
"And for me with my Ohio State ties that I had [Swisher played baseball for OSU], being born in Columbus, Ohio, I just think it was a perfect fit for me and my wife. We started a family in Cleveland [Swisher and wife Joanna Garcia Swisher have a young daughter], so I think for us, we're just super excited about the decision we made. [We] could not be more honored to be here, and [we are] just enjoying this and hopefully continue keeping this resurrection of this organization going."
Baseball fans may be surprised to learn that when Swisher first reported to Goodyear a year ago, he was nervous.
Nicholas Thompson Swisher, nervous?
Say it ain't so.
"I can't thank the fans and the organization and my teammates enough, because any time you go into a new locker room, there's always those first couple days where you're just kind of sitting around thinking, 'Man, I don't want to say anything wrong.' … I get nervous, too," Swisher said. "But I think, just in general, how the city and the organization and the guys just really wrapped their arms around me and really made me feel at home. It's an amazing opportunity for me, and I just could not be more happy in being here."
Needless to say, Swisher's nerves fell away quickly, and along with them went the old perception of the Indians' organization. Bringing in Swisher was the cornerstone in the foundation of a new team.
It wasn't just a few fresh faces for the Indians last spring -- it was an entire facelift and makeover, to boot.
"I think last year, everyone was trying to get to know each other. No one really had ever had the opportunity to be on the same team," Swisher said. "So I think for all of us, it really, really took us those first couple months to get to know each other. I think we really started to hit our stride coming into August and September last year, played great baseball all the way through.
"I think this year, we know who's coming back, we know who our lineup is going to be every day, and I think that's an amazing thing to have. Especially when you have a group of guys like the 'Goon Squad,' guys coming off the bench taking pride in who they are, doing what they can to help this team."
"I think for us, everything's kind of moving in the right direction. We're just really excited about the opportunity we have. We're going to battle, we're going to fight and we're going to enjoy it, because that's the kind of team we are."
Swisher was quick to point out that the Indians went from 68 wins in 2012 to 92 in '13, one of the most drastic leaps in baseball history.
"Last year, we changed the attitude; we changed the way people thought in this organization," he said. "And I think any time you bring over a guy like Terry Francona -- who, just roll out the awards he's gotten -- that kind of starts it off and then it has that trickle-down effect.
"It's hard to put a word on something like that, because we are still trying to identify who we are as an organization. I think for us, we've got that 'X' on our backs now -- people know who we are, and I think that's a great place to be."
A big part of that success, said Swisher, starts in the locker room.
"I mean, jeez. It's so easy to come to work -- if you want to call playing baseball work -- it's so easy to come to work every single day," he said. "Everybody's so consistent in who they are as a person and as a player. I think we've got a great mix of some veteran guys like Jason Giambi, myself who's been around for a while. And then we've got our young thundercats like Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes, Cody Allen -- we've got a lot of those young guys.
"I think when you mix those battle-tested veterans who have been around for a while with these young thundercats who are just going out there because they're so gifted, it's an amazing mix. And personality-wise, this has to be the most [enviable] locker room in the game, because every single game, guys are laughing and having a good time, and I think it makes it a lot easier to work in that atmosphere."
If that's true, you can bet Swisher had a lot to do with it.
Today, you'll find him holding court in the Tribe clubhouse, with that trademark booming voice piping above the din.
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.