Posted: Tuesday May 30, 2006 2:14PM; Updated: Tuesday May 30, 2006 2:14PM
The roller coaster
After shooting up through the A's farm system, Swisher (center) found that life in the majors -- especially as a rookie -- was a different story.
Swisher's ego took a big hit early in his big-league career, though. After cruising through 2½ years in Oakland's farm system, he entered last season with a world of expectations.
During his rookie season, which Swisher describes as "an emotional roller coaster," he amassed some impressive numbers, including 21 homers, 32 doubles and 74 RBIs. However, he hit only .236, the lowest batting average among all major league qualifiers.
There are many theories as to why the traditionally high-average slugger sputtered a bit in '05. A's manager Ken Macha says Swisher got a little too power-happy and tried exclusively to pull the ball, while Beane claims it was just a case of rookie growing pains. But Swisher's teammates believe in a simple diagnosis: Rook lost his strut.
"Some people think, as a rookie, you need to be quiet and not say anything, and [Swisher] may have rubbed people the wrong way last year," second baseman Mark Ellis said. "He quieted down a bit, and I think that's why he didn't perform as well because he wasn't being himself."
Swisher said he fell into a downward spiral after attempting to curb his effervescent approach. But he also attributes a late-season slump to the August passing of his grandmother Betty Lorraine Swisher, whose initials are now tattooed on his chest.
"I felt like I was trying to hit a five-run home run every time I came up to the plate," Swisher said. "It was the first person who's ever been close to me that has passed away in my life, and it just so happened that it was the closest person in my life."
A solid rookie year concluded with a flameout: Swisher hit just .187 with 27 strikeouts in September.
Training like a football player
He commenced his ordinary offseason routine, returning to Parkersburg for two weeks of R&R. After catching up with family and friends, he locked up an apartment in Columbus, Ohio -- two hours from Parkersburg -- and spent the rest of the winter training with the Ohio State football team five days a week. Most of the time he worked under Ohio State strength coach Allan Johnson, who recently resigned from his Buckeyes post.
"Al Johnson has really helped me bring my game to a new level with all the strength training we do," Swisher said.
Sharing the gym with behemoths such as A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Nick Mangold -- all first-round picks in the 2006 NFL draft and good friends of Swisher's -- satisfied the former safety's gridiron itch. "Throughout my whole life I've wanted to be a football player, so I've always trained like one," said Swisher, who has packed on 25 pounds since the A's drafted him.
Besides bulking up to 225 pounds, Swisher has made many lasting friendships with Buckeyes football players past and present through the training. He tries to get out to the Horseshoe to support his workout buddies as much as possible, especially when the men in maize and blue come to town. He was there for Ohio State's 37-21 drubbing of Michigan in 2004.
"That was awesome," Swisher says with a huge grin.