Braves’ super-stoked Nick ‘Swishalish’ believes, bro

 

 LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Regardless of whether you believe or hope or don’t much care whether Nick Swisher makes the Braves’ opening-day roster, it’s difficult to imagine how anyone could not appreciate the man’s indefatigable enthusiasm.

I mean, the guy is 35 years old, had surgery on both knees on the same day in August 2014, and was traded to the Braves in a waiver deal that was essentially a salary dump for both teams – 3B Chris Johnson to Cleveland, OFs Swisher and Michael Bourn to Atlanta.

Due to advancing age and/or balky knees, Swisher has been a bust since signing a four-year, $56 million contract with the Cleveland Indians in his native Ohio before the 2013 season — a deal that included a $14 million vesting option for 2017, which most thought at the time would vest easily, but which nobody believes will vest now.

Nick Swisher takes batting practice Thursday during the Braves' first full-squad workout. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

Nick Swisher takes batting practice Thursday during the Braves’ first full-squad workout. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

Because under almost no imaginable circumstances could anyone take a sober look at the situation and believe that Swisher, after totaling 579 plate appearances over the past two seasons, will get the 550 PAs required in 2016 for that ’17 option to vest.

Not unless he’s traded to another team – the Braves would likely have to pay most of Swisher’s $15 million salary to make it happen — that could use him in the lineup on a regular basis. And then not unless those surgically repaired knees are as strong now as Swisher thinks they are after an offseason of strength and conditioning that’s enabled him, at least for the time being, to shed the bulky braces he wore on his knees last season.

Before going any further, this would be a good place to give you a little of the optimism that Swisher, God bless him, shared with us reporters after he reported to spring training Wednesday. And keep in mind, this was at about 8 a.m., a time when I was still trying to synchronize my motor skills after only three cups of coffee.

This is how he started, when someone asked about coming to his first Braves spring training.

“Driving in I parked in the wrong parking lot, I came in and everybody’s asking me where my credentials were, I’m like, bro, I don’t have them!” he said. (As a rule I rarely use exclamation marks in anything I write, but in the case of Swisher they seem most appropriate, as an attempt to convey the energy and volume he had while talking to us.) But it’s just nice to get here, nice to be part of a fresh, new start for me. Just having a full offseason behind me and getting myself healthy enough to take on that 162 grind is a good feeling upstairs to have, at least.

“This organization is making a lot of moves, so I just want to go out there and do my part.”

When asked about his health and the condition of his knees: “It’s been two years, guys. I’ve been trying to get back on the field for two years, and I’m finally back to that point. You guys can be the judge of that.”

Smiles, laughs, a lot of “bro” and “man” and “super excited” and “stoked” – all while he looks you in the eye, making it just about impossible for even the most cynical person not to want to believe him and want it to be true, whether rational or not.

“This is kind of the first offseason — I think this is my 14th or 15th spring training and I think for the first time in my life I’m starting to train smart,” Swisher continued. “I know that I can’t take that grind of pounding weights each and every day. So you have to alter your workouts a little bit. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life – on the field, off the field.” (Yes, he was the first to drop the “best shape of my life” quote on us this spring training, which only seemed appropriate.)

He wasn’t finished with that answer: “My wife and I just found out we’re having another baby, bro, I’m super stoked. So for me, emotions are running high and I just want to get on the field.”

At that point I think some reporter mentioned something about the Braves this year being a good opportunity for someone – prospects? rookies? I don’t remember, and it’s not really important here —  and Swisher responded with this:

“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for everybody. For what this organization is trying to do, you’re going to need help from all places, whether you’ve been around for a awhile or this is your first go-round. For myself it’s going to be interesting to know all these guys. I think we’ve got 70-some guys in camp, which in this locker room is impressive. But more than anything, for me this season means something to me, I’m just super excited to get back on the field and get back to doing what I know I can.”

Folks, this would probably be a good place to point out that Swisher hit .196 (43-for-219) with six homers, a .312 OBP and a .320 slugging percentage in 76 games last season for the Indians and Braves, with a long DL stint in the middle of the season after he tried to come back too quickly to return from the knee surgeries. The year before, he hit .208 with a career-low .608 OPS in 401 PAs.

It would also be appropriate to point out that Swisher hit .268 with 105 home runs, 349 RBIs, a .367 OBP and .483 slugging percentage in 598 games during the 2009-2012 seasons with the Yankees to land that fat contract with the Indians at age 32.

In the three seasons since he signed that deal, he’s hit .224 with 36 homers, 130 RBIs, a .315 OBP and .373 slugging percentage in 318 games. Yikes.

But getting back to the present, and why Swisher insists he’s confident that he can get back to his peak level, or something close. At age 35. On a pair of surgically repaired knees.

“I mean, braces are off, which is nice,” he said. “That’s a great freedom feeling. But I think in general I just went back and kind of started from ground zero, and just really tried to build everything back up the proper way. We started the week after the season was over trying to get back. Because it’s been too long, man. It’s been a long wait for me. I didn’t want to do that anymore – I hate going out there and not being able to compete at a high level. So I’m just excited to get back on the field, it’s a fresh, new start!”

When I mentioned that the knee brace – I thought it was only one, but he says now that he actually wore two during games and didn’t tell us writesr about it – looked like something a lineman would wear and must’ve been quite cumbersome.

“Like I was Tom Brady or something,” he says, smiling and referring to the quarterback whose knee braces also look more like a lineman’s. “If you want to get back to where you want to me you’ve got to put the work in, and that’s something I did, and I’m confident that it’s going to be a lot of fun getting back on that field and playing the way I can.”

Nick Swisher (right) catches a ball in front of prospect Mallex Smith in Thursday's workout. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

Nick Swisher (right) catches a ball in front of prospect Mallex Smith in Thursday’s workout. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

His enthusiasm is inexhaustible. Maybe it would also be exhausting for those around him day-in and day-out, but that’s not what the Braves said last year when they spent about eight weeks with him. Swisher’s energy was welcomed in a clubhouse that was seriously dragging at the time as the Braves were in the midst of one of the worst half-seasons in franchise history, a nose-dive that took them from a 42-42 start to a 67-95 finish.

Expectations from pundits and most others outside the organization are quite low for these rebuilding Braves, but count Swisher among those who believe they can defy the skeptics.

“I’m excited to make a push and kind of turn things around,” he said. “I know nobody’s really giving us a chance at all, but I think that’s what spring training’s for. We get a lot of guys moving in the right direction, you can’t slow that down. And I think that’s going to be our job, whether you’re young or a veteran guy that’s been around for a while, is really just turning into a great, cohesive unit and keep moving forward. Because last year was, I mean, it was tough. I wasn’t here for a lot of it, but I was here for the end of it.”

Nevermind that there doesn’t appear to be any spot for him on a team that has Hector Olivera penciled in for left field, Ender Inciarte in center, Nick Markakis in right, plus Bourn ($14 million) and Emilio Bonifacio as backups, and center field prospect Mallex Smith waiting in the wings, and versatile veteran Kelly Johnson capable of playing left field, and …. Well, you get the gist.

But in the chocolate-river world of “Swishalish,” as catcher Tyler Flowers and some others affectionately call him, there isn’t any need to worry about decisions out of your control. Just do your thing, get super-stoked and play hard, bro.

“This organization is making moves,” Swisher said. “This is a historic organization. Everybody used to watch TBS back in the day, man. So it’s like, these are the Atlanta Braves, we need to get ourselves back to where we belong.”

Hey, the man’s got a point, right?

And, well, what if it turns out that he gets traded, someone asked.

  “I would love to help this team,” Swisher said, “but if I can help somebody else, I’ll go do that.”

C’mon, how could anyone not appreciate that positivity and confidence? I have no idea if Swisher can be any better than he’s been the past couple of seasons, but I don’t mind saying I’d be pleased – or super stoked – for him if he somehow manages to do it.

• Let’s close with this one from the great singer-songwriter Patty Griffin, which I must say sums up my own feelings.

“DON’T LET ME DIE IN FLORIDA” by Patty Griffin

Patty Griffin

Patty Griffin

Please don’t let me die in Florida,
I don’t care about my name.
If you catch me dying in Daytona
Throw my bed on to a train.

I was born in Indian summer
In the South End long ago
And those dirty streets cried out for rain
And this is what I know
And the rains came and they only stopped
Just in time for snow
And the icy cold filled up my shoes
And this is what I know

Please don’t let me die in Florida
I don’t care about my name
If you catch me dying in Orlando
Roll my bed on to a train

Well I went to war to fight the Japs
When the war was over
I threw my cap
Just as far as you could throw a thing
I went home and gave my girl a ring
I put the highways and the black top down
Turned the prairies into the towns
And those hills gave way just like a wedding gown
I put the highways and the black top down

I don’t need to see no mirror
I aint never gonna see my own face
Just a reflection of somebody
Whos gonna leave without a trace
Roll me over over them hills so old and proud
Let the night come in and lay my shroud
I ain’t never been to Cal-i-forn-aye-ay
Maybe that’s where I should end my days

Please don’t let me die in Florida
I dont care about my name
If you catch me dying in Orlando
Roll my bed on to a train


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