By: Alex Morando, Ohio State Athletics Communications
Nick Swisher remembers his first walk to home plate at Bill Davis Stadium. He remembers digging into the batter’s box, and the smell of the dirt on his batting gloves. He remembers the feel of the crisp autumn air swirling around the diamond. This is where Nick Swisher belongs. This is the game he loves.
It’s the fall of 1999. The Scarlet and Gray World Series. Swisher paces the Scarlet offense in game four, going 3-for-3 with three RBI to lead his team to a 3-1 series win. The 18-year old kid from the small town of Parkersburg, W.Va., finishes the series with an incredible .800 batting average. His dream was just beginning, baby.
“I remember the scouts telling me, you’re a 5-foot-10 first baseman from West Virginia,” Swisher said, with a big chuckle over the phone. “I didn’t have a lot of options. I didn’t get drafted out of high school. You could say I had a little chip on my shoulder.”
Fast forward three years.
The phone rings. It’s Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics. The general manager tells him, “Nick, if you’re still around at pick 16, we’re taking you.”
“I was like, are you kidding me?”
Moneyball was born. His life was about to change forever. “I was like, Oh no, bro, this is really happening!”
“We had everything we needed growing up, and we weren’t wealthy by any means. For a number to be given to you like that, at whatever slot it was money-wise. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never been a big spender, so I threw it all in the bank because I knew I had an unbelievable opportunity.”
Now retired at age 37, he’s Mr. Mom, married with two daughters. He joined Fox Sports as a studio analyst a year ago and will have his own podcast up and running soon. He finally took his first vacation at age 36.
“I could not be more blessed to have the most beautiful, caring, loving wife on the planet. To have two of the most badass daughters a dad could ask for. I feel like someone has been looking down on me and taking care of me because my life has been awesome.”
So awesome. Swisher, one of the great Buckeye baseball players ever, suited up and took the field in colossal stadiums around the country in 1,527 MLB games. He hit 245 home runs and won a world championship with one of the biggest franchises in all of sports. Looking back on it, he remembers the people he met, and the importance of always representing with class and character.
“I think that I have always tried to represent my team, or my organization, my school, or my family in the best way possible because, at the end of all of this, that’s all that really matters. It doesn’t matter how many home runs you hit, how many RBIs you had, or how many bases you stole. In the grand scheme of things it only matters how you affected people.”
That all started in Columbus, Ohio.
Spurred by that little chip on his shoulder of not getting drafted out of high school and having a father that played in the big leagues for 10 years, Swisher knew he had to prove that he could play this game.
“Ohio State was the best option for me,” Swisher said.
— Ohio State Baseball (@OhioState_BASE) February 2, 2018
Swisher grew up a Buckeye. He went to school until eighth grade in Worthington, Ohio. He knew all about the passion and the pride and the tradition of Ohio State football, but not a lot about Ohio State baseball. He didn’t end up signing with the Scarlet and Gray until after graduation.
“When I landed here, I was like ‘Oh this is going to be awesome, let’s make the best of the situation. Ohio State becomes you, it becomes a part of you. For me, the start of the forever O-H, in my heart.”
But his freshman year wasn’t a walk in the park. Swisher was pressing at the plate, and, well, swishing at the baseball. In late March at the start of Big Ten play, the switch-hitter was batting .239 with 16 strikeouts in 71 at-bats.
So he decided to call his best friend for advice, his dad.
Steve Swisher, who was an all-star catcher with the Chicago Cubs in 1976 and longtime minor league coach and manager, drove 110 miles and met him at the batting cages at 8 o’clock the next morning. He and Nick worked on his swing and until the day Swisher retired in 2017, his father was his hitting coach.
Boom. A three-home run game at Illinois. The rookie then hit a grand slam at home to claim the team’s series win over a then-first place Penn State team. By the end of the year, he led all Big Ten freshmen with 10 home runs and carried a .299 batting average with 48 RBI and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American.
Swisher learned a lot about himself that freshman season and in his mind he felt like he had a chance to do it at the next level. But first he made national headlines right from the beginning of his sophomore campaign in 2001, being named Louisville Slugger’s National Player of the Week after putting up videogame-like numbers in the Sunshine State.
In a six-hour span during a warm doubleheader in Jacksonville, Fla., Swisher went 6-for-10 with four home runs and nine RBI. He shined with the spotlight on the Buckeyes as both games were televised.
Opposing pitchers knew when No. 33 was coming to the plate. The power-hitter’s walk-up song was “Danger” by Mystikal. That weekend in Florida would set the tone for the rest of the year as he led Bob Todd’s Buckeyes to a Big Ten title, leading the conference with 15 home runs to go along with a .322 batting average to earn first team All-Big Ten honors.
“I think it was more about the guys than anything, and to have the ring to prove that is pretty cool. Kudos to Bob Todd; at that point every player that he recruited had a Big Ten title and a Big Ten ring. So it was awesome to be able to continue that tradition.”
Swisher was named to the 2001 USA Baseball Team during the summer.
He also spent more time in the weight room Grinding. Sweating. Doing it when no one else wanted to.
— Ohio State Baseball (@OhioState_BASE) February 3, 2018
“I put on a little bit more muscle, I was stronger. I was all about the game. For me it was just about going out and playing the game you love.”
His offseason work showed on the diamond his junior year, hitting another 10 home runs with 64 hits in 2002. Swisher recorded a 19-game hit streak during the season and a 51-game reached base streak to finish with another first team All-Big Ten campaign.
Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s were ready to call, and Swisher was soon on his way to reaching his dream of playing Major League Baseball.
Washington State Athletic Director Pat Chun was the Ohio State baseball sports information director during Swisher’s collegiate years and summed up the energetic OSU baseball great the best.
“The first time you meet Nick Swisher you actually hear him before you see him,” Chun said. “In hindsight, Nick was always destined to achieve his dreams. He attacked every single day, practice and game with energy and enthusiasm. He was the most talented player on the field but also the hardest working. Many didn’t get to see the extra time he put into the weight room and the countless hours of extra hitting he would put into the batting cages. Nick, putting into everything he did, is what made him so special at Ohio State.”
A devoted husband and father, Swisher still puts his heart and soul into everything he does. His passion for baseball and Ohio State continues and was most noticed on Nov. 3, 2011, at Bill Davis Stadium when Swisher was recognized for his generous $500,000 donation for a new turf field.
“To have the honor and the ability to help the Buckeye baseball team get them out on the field a little more, to give them the opportunity to maybe practice a little more, give them the opportunity to take that extra ground ball, or fly ball,” Swisher said. “To me that was an honor.”
“To be able to have my name on that outfield wall, and behind home plate, I take a load of pride in that! I hope that my contribution helps to show who I am and what I stand for.”
Current and former Buckeyes realize the benefits of Swisher’s dream never stopping.
His legacy is enduring.