Strong family helped Swisher grow
Yanks right fielder had tight bond with late grandparents
It's a popular bumper sticker, particularly in Florida and Arizona: "Let me tell you about my grandchildren." In the players' parking lot at Yankee Stadium, one could very well read: "Let me tell you about my grandparents." That would be on Nick Swisher's car.
And he will, wistfully and with love. Donald and Betty Lorraine Swisher raised him in Parkersburg, W.Va., after Nick's parents divorced when he was in sixth grade.
"It's always a hard thing to go through," the Yankees All-Star right fielder said, "but you've got to battle through it. No excuses. If it's not a good situation, but you've got to make it a good situation. For me, it ended up being the best thing that ever happened.
"My mom's happily married. My dad's happily married. But when you're going through tough times like that, it's different. I was at an age when, you know, you're starting to get hormones, things like that. So you kind of know what's going on. It was a tough time; I had to see a psychologist for a little bit."
Betty succumbed to brain cancer in 2005. Donald died three years later.
Their initials are written on the knob of Swisher's bats. They're tattooed on his chest, too, and with a halo and wings on his back, along with other artwork including the last lines of the poem, "Footprints in the Sand." ("You promised me, Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always.")
They are always on Nick Swisher's mind as he steps to the plate. When he looks skyward he envisions them coming down from heaven and watching him from above the stadium. "I wish they could actually be with me to see how I'm doing, but ... ." His voice trails off.
He attributes his success to them. "I was very fortunate to have good parents, my mother and my father, and then good grandparents on top of that," Swisher said. "I think the one thing my grandparents taught me was work ethic, to work hard.
"If you want something, you go get it. You don't sit back; work your tail off to get it. I know I'm not the most talented player, but my work ethic is the reason why I'm here."
Swisher says he maintains a great relationship with both parents, especially with his father, Steve, a former Major League catcher.
One might expect a Major Leaguer to push his son to play baseball. Steve didn't.
"I think the one thing I can thank him for, more than anything, is that he never pushed me to do one specific thing -- or anything," Swisher said. "The one specific thing he did teach me, growing up, is that whatever I was going to do, to be the best at it. That's what I tell young kids."
He already has far outstripped his father's accomplishments on the field.
Each was drafted in the first round, a father-son rarity in big league history. But although Steve was taken 21st by the Cubs in 1973, Nick was picked 16th by the Athletics in 2002. "I point that out to him once in a while," Nick said.
That was only the beginning. Each made an All-Star team. But Steve never got into the game in 1976. Nick batted in this year's. (OK, he struck out. Still, he played.)
And while Steve hit a total of 20 home runs in nine years in the Majors, Nick has hit more than 20 in each of his six full seasons, including a career-high 35 for Oakland in 2006.
Steve spent his career with mostly losing clubs -- the Cubs, Cardinals and Padres. Nick, in his seventh season, has been on three division winners -- the Athletics, White Sox and last season's world champion Yankees.
"I remember he always wore his All-Star ring when he was around me," Nick said, grinning, "and it was like, 'Hey, you got one of these yet?' I finally got one this year and showed him and said, 'Oh, hey, I've got this other ring. They call it a World Series ring. You got one of them?'"
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.