Swisher raised by Major League dad
Chicago outfielder spent childhood in Minor League dugout
CHICAGO -- The first real memories of baseball for Nick Swisher involve being with his dad as a 6-year-old.
That particular fact doesn't exactly qualify as surprising, as fathers bonding with sons through baseball has served as a rite of passage for as long as the game has existed. But the younger Swisher's memories are quite a bit different than most.
For starters, Steve Swisher played nine seasons as a Major League catcher. He suited up for four years behind the plate for the Cubs, making the National League All-Star team in 1976, after being selected by the White Sox with the 21st pick overall in the '73 Draft. On Dec. 11 of that year, Swisher was part of a somewhat famous crosstown trade with the Cubs that also sent Steve Stone to the North Side, with Ron Santo coming to the White Sox in return.
It all began in Waterloo, Iowa, as both Swishers recently recounted.
"He got to hang out in the clubhouse, even played a little pepper with the guys," said Steve, speaking from his home in West Virginia. "The funniest part about the whole deal was we didn't know anyone there at that time, and I didn't want Nick in the stands with anyone I didn't know.
"So, they let him hang out with me in the dugout. We got permission from the umpires. We also developed a great bond, and Nick got to see an aspect of the game most people don't."
Nick also got into his share of typical 6-year-old mischief, only his exploits took place at a baseball stadium. One moment that has left a small impression with Nick, both physically and mentally, is when Nick had designs on becoming the youngest Evel Knievel on record.
So, his dad would introduce him during some pregame fun and Nick would come flying from under the grandstand on his red bicycle. One day, though, Nick misjudged his course.
"I crashed into the corner of the bench," said Nick with a laugh. "I got stitches right there in the training room.
"On bus rides, I remember crawling under all the seats on the way back. And in the sixth or seventh inning, when it was time for me to go to sleep, my dad would put me right on top of the bat rack and that's where I would fall asleep. He caught grief from some umpires, but he would tell them he had nowhere else to put me. That was probably my first fond memory of baseball."
Of course, Nick is now the one carrying the Swisher name proudly through the ranks of Major League Baseball -- he's in his fourth full season and first with the White Sox. Nick is grateful to his father for being a great coach as he was working his way through the ranks to the ultimate destination.
Along with a coach and a father, Nick also has a best friend in Steve. Even when his dad was on the road managing and Nick was living with his grandparents in West Virginia, he knew Steve was "only a phone call away."
"One thing I was brought up to learn and understand is family will always be there for you, so my family has been my rock," Nick said. "Family is so huge, especially in times of need and struggle.
"I call my dad after every game. It doesn't matter if it's 1 o'clock in the morning or we are on the West Coast.
"Wherever it is, I know if I don't, he'll get on me the next day," added Nick with a laugh. "He'll ask, 'Are you too good to call me now?'"
By Nick's estimation, his dad played a position for close to one decade that required the most smarts in the game. He tips his hat to his father for what he accomplished.
According to Steve, becoming a successful Major League catcher ran a distant second to being a successful father.
"Father's Day is a special day, and I consider myself a lucky guy," Steve said. "I'm proud to be Nick's father -- he's a great kid. But I've never taken the job lightheartedly. Being a parent is a tough job, one of the great responsibilities in this country, and I'm doing all I can to uphold the responsibility.
"I've always tried to impress upon Nick that when you look at things in life, there are three important things: communication, education and motivation. I tried to educate him as far as the game of baseball.
"Now, it's motivation. I tried to let him know someone is always there for you, so you need to battle through it and know that champions are willing to make sacrifices."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.