May 6, 1968
Ron Swoboda has a knack for being in the right place at I the right time. He showcased that trait most indelibly during Game 4 of the 1969 World Series when he gained baseball celebrity with a sprawling catch in right center on a sinking liner off the bat of Brooks Robinson that helped propel the Amazin' Mets past the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in five games. "Because it happened in the World Series, it's kind of attached to me—the Catch," says Swoboda, a slow-footed, clumsy-fielding .242 career hitter. "I was a pretty average ballplayer with one shining moment."
Swoboda's moments these days may not be as dramatic, but he finds them just as satisfying. He has taken a shine to his adopted hometown of New Orleans, where—apart from a three-year stint in Phoenix in the mid-1980s—he and his wife of 34 years, Cecilia, have lived since 1981. The Baltimore-born Swoboda, now a 55-year-old father of two sons and grandfather of five, is a sales rep for a company that markets asbestos and lead paint management products; does color commentary for the New Orleans Zephyrs, the Triple A affiliate of the Houston Astros; and writes " Swoboda at Large," a monthly column in New Orleans Magazine. In that space the man who was nicknamed Rocky during his playing days (purportedly a description of the contents of his head) holds forth on the music, art, literature and history of his favorite city. "I've never been in a place that intrigued me from so many angles," Swoboda says. "I really dig the city, and I've tried to love it and appreciate it."
Rocky's path to the Crescent City was strewn with its share of stones. Signed by the Mets after just one year at Maryland, Swoboda found himself in spring training with New York in 1964 without ever having played pro ball; he was a regular for the hapless Mets a year later. Swoboda believes his swift rise to the big leagues may have hurt his development, and he never matched the 19 home runs he hit as a rookie. After he finished his career in '73 at 29, his lingering celebrity as an Amazin' helped him land a sports anchor position at WCBS-TV in New York City, kicking off, he says, "six or seven years of growing pains" in the television business. (It was a sportscasting gig that brought him to New Orleans.) Swoboda looks back gratefully on what he gained from his years in New York: an interest in art and jazz. Those two passions have made New Orleans a perfect fit. "If I hadn't spent all that time chasing baseballs, none of this would have happened the way it did," Swoboda says, "and I would be much the poorer."