To listen to the story as it’s told, the Swisher family — Nick and his wife JoAnna — took the proper steps to ensure that their decision would be one that was best for everyone involved. After every stop on the free agency circuit, each would-be suitor offering what they could in attempt to woo the services of the former New York Yankee outfielder, the Swishers sat down and created a run-of-the-mill list featuring pros and cons.
What was best for Nick, a 32-year-old who had just spent the last few seasons playing with some of the most talented teammates the game has to offer? What was best for JoAnna, a television and film actress who doubles as a passionate philanthropist? And what would be best for their daughter, the couple’s first child who is anticipated to arrive sometime in May of 2013?
“We wanted to go somewhere where we were going to be wanted and where we were going to be loved,” Swisher said of his free agent decision, admittedly the biggest he has ever made. The Cleveland Indians, playing with decidedly fewer cards than some of their competitors, rolled out all of the scarlet, grey and green they could procure. The result, despite all of the cards being stacked against them, was Nick Swisher, all smiles, donning the Wahoo red, white and blue.
Unleashed upon the Cleveland media, it would be the 32-year-old Swisher who — between grins that matched the giant one on his hat — discussed the rich tradition and upside-laced future of his new employer. He discussed the “rocking and rolling” times of the mid-1990s when he was just a teenager playing with aluminum bats in Parkersburg, West Virginia. He spoke of the rock solid bullpen which is currently employed along with the young core that will (hopefully) help this Cleveland Indians team win more games than the 94-loss season of 2012. And, mostly, he spoke of the heartstrings that were tugged with enough fervor to have this one-time big city boy and his actress wife land in a city that provides little in the way of show business appeal.
To listen to Swisher, the collegiate style recruiting tactics that were used during his early December visit — the dinner with his hero Jim Tressel, a newborn-size Indians jersey for his soon-to-be-born daughter — and promptly bashed by many national writers and cynical Tribe fans, it would appear that the food and fan fare was exactly what the 32-year old and his expanding family were looking for. Well, this and a $56 million contract that could conceivably secure his future through the 2017 season, the largest per-year contract ever inked by the Tribe; one that effectively replaces the impending $100-million deal that will be handed to former Indians right fielder Shin-Soo Choo.
“Money is a wonderful thing to have, but it doesn’t make me who I am — it doesn’t make us who we are,” Swisher said of the financial aspect of his decision. He would not elaborate on what locations he visited before and after Cleveland; financial discussions were also left undiscussed. But the truth is, though the measures taken in attempt to sign Swisher may appear to have started with phone calls placed to representatives where dollar figures were tossed about, it appears that it began when the Indians agreed to terms with Terry Francona as their manager of the future. Recall, it was Francona who was hot on the trails of several players during the Winter Meetings. It was also Francona who has known the Swisher family since the late-1980s when he played for Nick’s father Steve as the two wore the caps of the Buffalo Bisons, then the Triple-A affiliate of the Indians.
Indians general manager Chris Antonetti used every kind word in the book when introducing his new right fielder — an established run producer, a perfect compliment for the Tribe’s lineup, exceptionally consistent, durable, insane amounts of passion, enthusiasm, and energy. Hence the ear-to-ear smile for the duration of the introductory press conference.
There were strongly voiced rumors that had Swisher pegged for the bright lights and smog of Los Angeles. His father played for the Chicago Cubs, Swisher’s de facto team as a fan-turned-player. He just turned in his pinstripes and unabashed love from the Bleacher Creatures. But in the end, Swisher, who was born in Columbus, Ohio and attended The Ohio State University, says that it was not much of a contest at all — his life is changing and the city of Cleveland provides him with everything the budding family man needs at this stage of his career.
“I’m really excited,” said Swisher. “I’m blessed. This is where my roots are and where I started, to be able to play for my supposed home team, I couldn’t be more excited.
“When you come to a place like Cleveland and you get to see these guys face to face and see how they run their everyday work. And everytime I take this field I feel like I’m at home, and I feel like they wanted me here. I had to jump all over that. My family is closer now. We’re already house hunting. We’re super excited.”
As the questions were answered one by one, as he discussed the $400,000 he and JoAnna have already contributed to various Cleveland Indians charities and as he would play off of Antonetti and Francona — his recruiters — Swisher continued to refer to the “magical time” he and his wife had when visiting the city of Cleveland in the middle of winter. He claims that he cannot see why the city would carry a negative connotation to others who were ever in his position or will be at any point in the near future and it’s a place where he plans on being for the next chapter of his career and life.
There’s no telling what the pros and cons were on the lists of the other cities that played host to the Swishers over the last several weeks, but it is evident that none of them were able to make them feel as desired as they did when the scarlet and grey carpet was rolled out when his plane touched down near Lake Erie. But once the final question was answered, and the media conglomerate was set to depart, Swisher lifted his left fist into the air as his smile turned serious — if just for a split second — where he would have the final words.
(AP Photos/Tony Dejak)