The start of the baseball season is less than a month away. Every weekday until opening day, we'll be counting down, from No. 20 to No. 1, the most important Yankees players for the upcoming 2010 slate. Today, No. 13, right fielder Nick Swisher.
If you had to pinpoint the moment Nick Swisher became a bona-fide fan favorite, you'd probably zero in on the inning he pitched in Tampa during one of Chien-Ming Wang's disastrous April starts. At the time, Swisher was a man without a real role. The Yankees traded for him before they went on their winter spending spree, and when the dust settled, Mark Teixeira was manning first base, leaving Swisher to split time in right with Xavier Nady. Swisher was already known as a free spirit, but throwing that inning with a big goofy smile on his face cemented his role as the team's class clown. The very next night, Nady would leave the game with an injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the season, and, suddenly, Swisher had a spot in the lineup every day.
Which isn't to say he's only good for a fun interview. He's not especially skilled defensively, but he has good on-base numbers and can hit for power — though bizarrely, he hit 21 of his 29 home runs away from the wind tunnels and comically close fences of Yankee Stadium. But that's not why he's popular (or, you could argue, why he's important). He's the one most credited with loosening up the staid Yankee clubhouse. He's an actor, a Twitterer, and now a vlogger. Just a hunch you won't be seeing Mariano Rivera responding to nepats3912 anytime soon:
Last year, Swisher's solid season was unexpected, sort of: He'd put up similar numbers before, but he wasn't supposed to play every day, and he finished with the fourth-highest on-base percentage on the club. (Plus, all he really cost them was Wilson Betemit.) But this year, they'll lean on him from the get-go, and with two new starters in the outfield, they're counting on him not to repeat his weak 2008 season.