10/06/09 10:00 PM EST
Swisher wiser after trade to New York
Difficult season with White Sox a memory for veteran slugger
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
There's no question this place belongs to the 28-year-old Yankees right fielder, who never lacked for charismatic bravado in his previous stops with the Athletics and White Sox. But there's something almost imperceptibly different concerning the switch-hitting slugger.
For starters, only a couple of members of the media are standing around Swisher's locker on this workout day -- one day before Wednesday's start of the American League Division Series in New York -- compared to the masses situated around him in Chicago at the start of the 2008 season. And Swisher is basically just keeping to himself, answering the questions when they come his way, while working through stacks of mail sitting at his feet.
Swisher, brought into Chicago prior to the 2008 season for his larger-than-life persona and the competitive edge he possessed, still hasn't lost that edge. Now, though, he's just one of the guys among a clubhouse filled with stars in New York, and he seems to be thoroughly enjoying this current, productive state.
"I did a lot of growing up this year," said Swisher, after the Yankees' workout on Tuesday. "Not only did I mature as a player, but I matured as a person.
"Over here, that's something you have to do. There are a lot of things that can slow you down, a lot of things that can be in your path. But I have my eye on the prize, and I'm very focused in on the task at hand."
When Swisher began the 2009 season, he was with his third team in three years. The A's received three Minor Leaguers in exchange for Swisher in the trade that sent him to the White Sox, and Chicago received right-hander Jeff Marquez, infielder Wilson Betemit and right-handed reliever Jhonny Nunez in the ensuing deal with New York.
Nobody in that group of three has exactly made his mark on the South Side of Chicago, but truth be told, both the White Sox and Swisher needed a change of scenery after a disappointing finish to the 2008 season -- disappointing on a personal level, not on a team level, as the White Sox beat Minnesota in a Sept. 30 tiebreaker to capture the American League Central crown.
By that point, Swisher had his time as a starter cut into by Dewayne Wise, and he was basically relegated to bench duty. Swisher didn't play in the historic victory over Minnesota and started in only one American League Division Series game against the Rays.
Swisher's conversational and friendly tone changed ever so slightly on Tuesday when he was asked about the 2008 season. It's a part of his past that he no longer wants to address.
"You know what, last year is done," Swisher said. "It's over. Last year is history. This is '09, and I think this year has been a magical year for all of us. The never-die attitude has propelled us to the next level, and we plan on keeping it going.
"After last year, I just wiped the slate clean and started from scratch. This is a new journey. I wanted to be able to get myself back to where I belong and where I think I should be."
To Swisher's credit, in 2008, he assumed the leadoff spot and starting center-field job for the White Sox out of necessity -- areas where he didn't have much previous experience. That change contributed to a career-low .219 average.
But that competitive fire also got the best of Swisher when he was benched, forcing the outfielder to visibly show his disappointment on certain occasions down the stretch. Those days are done, by Swisher's calculations, and New York seems to be a place where he feels he belongs.
"This is no disrespect to any other team I've played for, but this is the best team I've ever played for," said Swisher, who posted 29 home runs, 82 RBIs and a .371 on-base percentage this season. "I love it here. I've been bouncing around the last couple of years, and I'll tell you what -- the way that everything has gone this year, for these guys to welcome me in the way they have and to be able to contribute, it has been a wonderful thing.
"If there were any changes that were made, they were all changes for the better -- there's no doubt about it. Coming over here, after last year, it was a complete godsend. To be able to be put in this situation and to come out and have a good year, it was awesome.
"A great thing about this team is we've had the front office, training staff, weight-room staff, strength staff, players, coaches -- everyone," Swisher said. "We've all been going in the same direction since Day 1."
That path traveled for Swisher began around Nov. 13, 2008, when he received a call from New York general manager Brian Cashman about becoming a member of the Yankees.
"From that day on, it was a different mind-set, mentality," Swisher said. "To be able to be part of this team and this winning tradition, it has taught me a lot of things.
"Look at the guys I can look up to in this uniform. That speaks for itself. I'm still young in the game, still learning a lot of things, and I learn something here every day."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.