The trade to the Yankees revived Swisher’s passion for baseball. “There’s a lot of guys that breeze through this game, and it’s easy, and there are never any struggles,” he says. “For me, man, it hasn’t been like that. It gives me goose bumps talking about it. That trade was the transformation.” Swisher has become fiercely attached to New York, living in the West Sixties with his wife, the actress JoAnna Garcia Swisher, walking the streets eagerly, never turning down a fan who asks him to pose for a photo. “I’m gonna walk twenty blocks with my wife just because we want to walk around the city,” he says. “If people stop and want to say hello, that’s my job! It just so happens, with my personality, I have fun with it, man.”
Through four seasons, he’s played even better than Cashman had hoped, becoming one of the team’s regular-season leaders in on-base percentage and runs batted in. This August, with Mark Teixeira and A-Rod lost to injuries, Swisher carried the Yankees’ offense, hitting .306 with six home runs and 22 RBIs. He’s sagged in September, though, just like the rest of the team. Swisher will need to start hitting again if the Yankees are to stop the bleeding, but his attitude will be an equally important contribution. That’s why his grin after catching the pop-up in Tampa last week should be reassuring instead of infuriating to Yankees fans. Even as manager Joe Girardi was growing so tight it looked as if his crew cut might pop off his head, Swisher was loose. Sure, the losses were killing him, and he was angry about going oh-for-three with three strikeouts, but Swisher wasn’t going to let those failures carry over to the next at-bat or the next game. Instead of panicking, he’s going to keep smiling.
“My whole philosophy about this thing, man, there’s so much stress put on winning and losing, stuff like that, sometimes I feel like people kind of forget the reason why we play this game: Because we love it!” Swisher says. “Brad Fisher, a coach in Oakland, told me, ‘As long as you put that uniform on, you have a lifetime pass to be a kid.’ And it’s so true! When I take that field, and the place is packed, I feel like a little kid running out there, dude! People come to games expecting to see the Nick Swisher Show. Well, they’re gonna get it!”
But the show may be playing its final weeks in the Bronx. If the Yankees don’t make the playoffs, the clamor for a roster overhaul will be ferocious, and Swisher’s expiring contract makes him one of the most easily shed parts. If the team plays into October, Swisher’s regular-season successes won’t earn him much credit come contract-negotiation time. The Yankees, famously, see anything short of a championship as unacceptable, so Swisher will need to produce in the playoffs, where he has flopped in past years. “People say, ‘Man, you look like you’re having so much fun!’ And I am,” Swisher says. “But people need to realize, on the other end, we’re all the same, we worry about having a job. It just so happens my job is on TV and under the lights. But do I know about the uncertainty that’s coming up this off-season? Absolutely. Everybody knows how much I want to be in New York. Everyone knows how much I love New York.”
“Hey!” yells Kevin Long, the Yankees hitting coach, who is waiting to throw batting practice. “Wrap it up!”
Swisher pulls on his batting gloves and laughs. “Let’s talk about this after we win the World Series.”