Each year at about this time, the New York Yankees stage their annual Old Timer’s Day. It’s a tradition that goes back even to the days when I was a kid in the late 1950’s. But today, there was another kid on the field at Yankees Stadium who epitomizes everything good that baseball has to offer.
As a fan of the Yankees and baseball, I recall a day in August almost a dozen years ago when a tour of ballparks I was on stopped in Oakland as part of a West Coast Tour. It was a day only seen in Oakland in the middle of the summer with clear and bright blue skies and temperatures in the mid-90’s.
Batting practice was completed, and there would be no infield practice on this scorching day. The field was void of players who had rushed into the cool of the clubhouse to finish the card games, send last-minute texts, grab a sandwich, or just to relax in the chair at their locker.
Except for one lone player who was making his way down the line from the dugout towards home plate greeting fans, posing for pictures, signing autographs, and engaging in simple chats with “his people.” That player, as you may have guessed, was Nick Swisher. The kid with the perennial smile exhibiting the pure joy of wearing a major league uniform.
This love affair between Nick Swisher and fans of all ages went on for 15-20 minutes while the grounds crew put the finishing touches on the field. Finally, five minutes before the first pitch, Swisher escaped to the clubhouse to change his jersey to lead the Oakland A’s out of the dugout.
They don’t make ’em like Nick Swisher anymore. And Yankees fans will recall how the team almost had to tear the uniform off his back after Swisher’s career ended with an ill-fated attempt to return to the majors. Swisher played in 55 games in 2016 with the Yankees Triple-A farm team in Scranton, Pa, insisting the whole time that, at 35, he could still play the game at a high level.
Excuse the quality of this video, but it’s the only one available at the moment on Youtube:
Yesterday, at Yankee Stadium, Nick Swisher hit a ball into the second-deck for a home run, dancing around the bases with his arms thrust in the air, and it almost seemed for one fleeting moment that the boyish dreams of this father with two daughters, on Father’s Day, just might have been right.
Oh yes, to be sure it was a pitch served up by Yankee’s former reliever, Jeff Nelson, who later said he was thinking about “breaking one off” as his competitive spirit also reappeared with the donning of pinstripes. Nevertheless, Nick Swisher did not miss the pitch.
The boyish enthusiasm for the game of baseball and displayed by Swisher is often in missing among the robotic and extremely rich players we see in the game today. Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians and Brandon Nimmo of the New York Mets capture that spirit today, and no one guesses that both have quickly become fan favorites.
They can’t all be like that, mostly because the game is as tough and rigorous as it’s ever been. Think not that is a knock against the bulk of the 600 young men who are afforded the opportunity to play a boy’s game, as much as it is a tribute to the few who openly smile every time they set foot on a major league field.
Interviewed just after hitting the home run, Nick Swisher was asked how often he misses playing. His answer was quick and terse, “Every day.”
One more day in the sun at Yankee Stadium wearing the pinstripes will never supplant that feeling. And we can only guess that Nick Swisher already has the date marked on his calendar next year when he gets one more chance to do it again.