September 23, 2014

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Indians: Excitement contagious for Nick Swisher, teammates

TORONTO — Nick Swisher is used to being the first one at the ballpark, on Opening Day or any day.

But when the Indians’ new first baseman caught the coaches and staff bus that left the hotel at 1 p.m. Tuesday for Rogers Centre, there were 15 or 20 teammates on it.

“That bus was packed,” Swisher said before the Tribe’s 4-1 win. “I was like, ‘Hot damn, that’s what I’m talking about.’’’
A version of that last sentiment might soon find its way onto an Indians warmup shirt. Anything that comes out of his mouth seems suitable for workout wear.

Presumably thanks to Swisher, the Indians sported new ones for the season opener Tuesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays. They read “Amazing Awesomeness,” a phrase coined by Swisher during a spring training interview with ESPN.

There is an amazing feeling in Northeast Ohio about the 2013 Indians. After losing 93-plus games in three of the past four seasons, owners Larry and Paul Dolan unleashed general manager Chris Antonetti on what would be considered a Neiman Marcus-level spending spree, headlined by the acquisition of free agents Swisher and center fielder Michael Bourn. There hadn’t been this much anticipation about the Indians’ opener since 2008, when the Indians were coming off a division-winning 96-66 season that ended in the American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox.

The potential for awesomeness seemed even greater than five years ago because of the hiring of manager Terry Francona, who led the Boston Red Sox to two World Series titles, including in 2007 when they ousted the Indians. Francona brings credentials unmatched by Manny Acta and Eric Wedge, the previous two men to inhabit his office full time.

But with such expectations came nerves. Such feelings might be normal for the first game in any year. But now that the table is set to achieve, Francona and his players know they must deliver.

Restoring the glory

Minor league invitee Jason Giambi, the de facto coach who is starting the season on the disabled list, made that clear. He wanted to play for Francona and to help restore the Indians’ 1990s glory. But Giambi feels the excitement and the weight of that.

“This is my 19th year and I love every minute of it. I’m excited to be here,” Giambi said. “Hats off to Chris Antonetti and the Dolan family, after losing 94 games (in 2012) they very easily could have folded up shop and said, ‘Let’s wait for a few more young kids to develop and see what we’ve got.’ They said, ‘Nope, let’s put the pedal to the metal. We’re going to give ourselves an opportunity to win.’ They went out and got some guys and spent some money. They put together a good ballclub, now we have to answer the bell and play good.”

That wasn’t why Francona said he slept only 2½ hours Monday night, or Tuesday morning, actually. That is normal for him once the season starts.

“I think I slept from like 6 to 8:30,” Francona said. “It never changes … half panic, half excitement, but in a good way. It’s like one of the best feelings ever, even though you’re scared or nervous.”

Francona said he wasn’t lying awake playing out scenarios for the six-game road trip to Toronto and Tampa Bay.

“No, I know what we’re going to do,” he said. “Just excited, nervous. I’m that way during most of the season. You’re either upset that you lost. … Not that I look good today, but I know when the season ends how much worse I’ll look. That’s just the way it is. Sleep as I know it is gone.

“Once you get here you know what you want to do. Now we just have to hope it works.”

Swisher was another who got little rest.

“My dad told me a long time ago, ‘If it’s not worth getting nervous for, it’s not worth doing.’ Today is one of those nervous days,” Swisher said. “It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve got in. With the new spot I’m in, on a personal note, I’m excited to be here, I’m excited to be part of this team and I’m excited to see what we’re going to be able to do.

“There are no expectations on this team and that makes us a very dangerous team.”

National perception

He wasn’t talking about what the fans in Northeast Ohio expect, but of the national perception of the Indians. Swisher said this pressure can’t compare to where he’s been before, especially during his previous four years with the New York Yankees.

Swisher thinks the Indians have the players with the mental makeup to take the challenge seriously. He thought the 1 o’clock bus was a good indication.

“There are so many gym rats in this locker room, that’s a great thing to have,” Swisher said. “You get on that 1 o’clock bus, you normally think it’s just going to be coaches. Not on this squad.”

Francona’s in-season habits excluded, there will be more excitement, more Indians losing sleep, especially Sunday night before the home opener Monday against the Yankees. Even as they embrace the “amazing awesomeness” Swisher envisions, the Indians sense the added responsibility 2013 brings.