Last week, Bleacher Report had an exclusive opportunity to speak with Cleveland Indians star Nick Swisher.
Aside from Swisher's role in a potent Indians lineup, the 11-year major league veteran has teamed up with Philips Norelco to spread the word about the #HighNTight campaign and sport a new, military-inspired cut to honor the troops during National Military Appreciation Month.
I had the opportunity to represent Bleacher Report in a wide-ranging conversation with Swisher that touched on his journey to Afghanistan, the idea of a Major League Baseball game for the troops and the state of the 2014 Indians.
Bleacher Report: What is at the root of your admiration and respect for U.S. troops?
Swisher: I've always just had a passion for helping people. So many military members give so much more than I ever could. This is just a small way of honoring them and giving some recognition to their plight. Plus, my grandfather was in the Korean War. Although my dad wasn't in the military, the values my grandfather installed in him were passed down to me and my brothers. It was almost as if I grew up in a military family!
B/R: Have you spoken to any former MLB players who also served in the military? If so, what did they tell you about that experience juggling two totally different lives?
Swisher: I have interacted with a few over the years. It's amazing, man. People call baseball a full-time job, but there's people out there who were war heroes and baseball players! That just brings more awareness to who these people are and what they were able to accomplish in their lives.
B/R: At one time, major league players left their teams to serve and fight for our country. Could you imagine doing that now? What does that say about former heroes like Bob Feller and Ted Williams?
Swisher: I don't know if I would have it in me! They were so strong, so courageous. That kind of bravery is rare, man. I think anyone who defends freedom and defends our values is a hero. Regardless of what side of politics you lie on, respect the troops and what they do for you on an everyday basis. It's crazy to think those heroes were once players like me.
B/R: You chose to spend your honeymoon with the troops in Afghanistan. How did that decision come about? Take us through the experience.
Swisher: The opportunity presented itself when I was with the Yankees. From the moment it was broached, I knew I was going! I had to, man! That kind of chance doesn't come around every single day. Plus, I got to bring my wife. To be able to have a wife that has the same passion for helping people, that's what it's all about.
B/R: What did you take away from the trip?
Swisher: It's a different world over there. We all know that, but it's different when you see it in person. I'm not going to lie, I was scared! I met 15,000 soldiers and couldn't believe the brave face they put on for us. Day-to-day life for them involves sacrifice, but you'd never know it by spending time with them. Amazing people.
B/R: Does MLB do enough to support the troops?
Swisher: We do a great job, but we can always do more! Always. There's no doubt about that. Baseball does recognize the troops and I feel that the business of baseball understands what the military represents and how the freedom to have a professional baseball league would't exist without them.
B/R: The NCAA recently played on an aircraft carrier as well as on a military base in South Korea. With MLB playing series overseas in places like Australia and Japan, is it time to play games in front of the troops?
Swisher: Oh man! How awesome would that be!? That's the best idea I've heard all day. It really is a global game now. We have to do that. I'm just imagining walking up to the plate and staring out to see 60,000 troops and military families in the stands. I would have goosebumps. How badass would that be!?
B/R: How do you feel about your Indians team as the Memorial Day pole arrives? There were high hopes after a 92-win season last year.
Swisher: Injuries have gotten us this season. We've had our ups and downs. Every year is different, but we're getting there. We came out of nowhere last year to take the league by storm. People didn't even really acknowledge that we were in the race until the last week of the season. All of a sudden we're playing Tampa with a playoff spot on the line.
B/R: What about your health? Are you over the shoulder issue that plagued you last season?
Swisher: I'm grinding, man. Shoulder is good, that's behind me. It's how you finish, not how you start. The Indians don't need to worry about me!
B/R: What is it like sharing a clubhouse with leaders like Terry Francona and Jason Giambi?
Swisher: Those guys are so, so amazing!
Terry treats you like a man. There's no gray area with him, which is refreshing. He's so positive and professional. It's easy to suit up and give him 110 percent every single night. In spring training, he opened the camp by telling us that there's never going to be a challenge that we'll back down from. We believe that because we believe in our manager.
Giambi is the best. It's such an honor to play with someone I grew up idolizing. Finally, too! I just missed him coming up through the A's organization and just missed him with the Yankees. He's such a pro and supports everyone. Baseball is a tough game where failure is so common. Giambi never lets you stay down. Always there with a word of encouragement or points out something he saw. He sees the game better than most. It's remarkable.
Swisher's personality and infectious demeanor are famous among fans and media members who cover baseball. When speaking to him for this Memorial Day piece, it was even more pronounced. The genuine admiration for the military, troops and sacrifice exploded through the phone when Swisher spoke and gave his time to this cause.
In the near future, baseball should seriously look into a regular-season game in front of the troops. While showcasing the game in places like Australia and Japan is instructive to the business and growth of baseball, allowing two teams to put on a show for the troops would be a deserving tribute. Clearly, Swisher's Indians would be a worthy representative.
Along with the #HighNTight campaign, Philips Norelco is getting things moving with a $25,000 donation to Operation Homefront, a nonprofit leading more than 2,500 volunteers with nationwide presence to provide emergency and other financial assistance to families of service members and wounded warriors.