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Getting his groove back

Swisher's production is catching up with his strut

Posted: Tuesday May 30, 2006 2:14PM; Updated: Tuesday May 30, 2006 2:14PM
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Nick Swisher has found a mentor in Frank Thomas, a player he grew up idolizing.
Nick Swisher has found a mentor in Frank Thomas, a player he grew up idolizing.
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Before joining the A's this season, Frank Thomas heard that the scouting report on Nick Swisher's personality was pretty cut-and-dried. "I just heard how nuts he was -- how crazy," Thomas said before a recent A's game.

Eric Chavez can attest to that. The longest-tenured Athletic says he frequently fields questions about Swisher's attitude. "The way he goes about the game, the way he struts, the way he points to the sky -- on the field, the way he handles himself is a little loud," the A's third baseman said.

The switch-hitting Swisher leads the A's in nearly every offensive statistic, including batting average (.303), home runs (15), RBIs (41) and runs (43). But while teammates continually praise Swisher for his hustle and passion for the game, his flamboyant playing style often draws ire from opponents. After signing a one-year deal with the A's in the offseason, Thomas was given the opportunity to make his own judgment on Swisher. The Big Hurt quickly found out that the "crazy" talk was a bit extreme.

"He's got a great, outgoing personality," Thomas said. "He's one of those guys that brings a little energy every day and it's just very infectious."

Thomas and Swisher hit it off quickly, forming a mentor-pupil relationship. Thomas -- a 17-year veteran who entered the bigs at age 22 -- finds it easy to relate to a young guy getting acclimated to life in the majors, and Swisher is more than thrilled to rub shoulders with a player who was hitting .300 before Swisher turned 10. Whether in the clubhouse for a cup of coffee or at a bar for a postgame drink, Swisher regularly shadows Thomas -- or "Big Frank," as Swisher affectionately refers to him -- soaking up knowledge. The topic of conversation is usually the same.

"The mental side," Thomas said. "Don't get too high, don't get too low. Don't believe the hype. That's my biggest thing with him."

Money talks

The road from Swisher's hometown of Parkersburg, W.Va., to Oakland featured some notable bumps.

In high school, Swisher received attention from a bevy of D-I powerhouses to play ... football. Top-tier programs, including Notre Dame, wanted him as a hard-hitting strong safety. But Swisher, whose father, Steve, played nine years in the majors with the Cubs, Cardinals and Padres, couldn't escape his passion for baseball.

"Baseball was always my No. 1, my first true love," the younger Swisher said.

After not being selected in the MLB draft out of high school, Swisher signed with Ohio State, one of two schools that recruited him for baseball (along with Ohio University). Three dominant seasons later, the Swisher hoopla arrived, in book form.

As the apple of Oakland general manager Billy Beane's eye before the 2002 draft, Swisher received a fair share of ink in Michael Lewis' 2003 bestseller Moneyball. One passage from the book describes the crux of Beane's attraction to Swisher: the slugger's lively demeanor.

The scouts were already sharing their favorite Swisher stories. The Indians' GM, Mark Shapiro, goes to see Swisher play, and instead of sticking to his assigned role of intimidated young player under inspection by the big league big shot, Swisher marches right up to Shapiro and says, "So what the hell's up with Finley's old lady?" (Chuck Finley is an Indians pitcher who filed assault charges against his wife.) Great story! The kid has an attitude.

This outgoing approach (and his innate ability to hit for power while regularly getting on base) helped make Swisher the No. 16 pick of the '02 draft. He was selected by the A's with Boston's first-round pick (compensation for the loss of free agent Johnny Damon). Beane recalls the reason he made Swisher the first pick in Oakland's famed '02 Moneyball draft.

"He's got a certain presence that I think a lot of great players have," Beane said. "He's a self-confident guy and it shows just watching him."