Nick Swisher’s smile was broader and brighter than the Chief Wahoo logo on his new cap.
He was back in Ohio, back at home, back where it all started.
“This is the place for me to be,” he said. “All roads led to Cleveland.”
Swisher, who spent the past four seasons wearing Yankees pinstripes, was introduced Thursday by the Indians, who managed to land the free-agent outfielder by playing to his deep Buckeye roots and giving him a four-year, $56 million contract that includes a vesting option for a fifth year.
Not long after passing a physical and signing the richest free-agent deal in Indians history, Swisher was handed a new No. 33 jersey.
He might wear it to bed.
From the moment he walked into the media room at Progressive Field with a large group of family and friends, Swisher couldn’t stop smiling and laughing.
“I can’t help it, man,” he said, shaking his head. “This is unbelievable. I never in a million years thought I would be in this position. As a little kid you dream about playing in the big leagues, but I don’t know if I ever dreamed about being in a situation like this. It’s an amazing time for my family and I.”
The 32-year-old Swisher, who was born in Columbus and attended Ohio State, didn’t try to hide his enthusiasm in joining the Indians, who convinced him that he could help their lineup and maybe get them back to the days when they were contending for AL Central titles on a yearly basis.
After trading Shin-Soo Choo last month, the Indians were desperate for a proven right fielder. They pursued Shane Victorino at the winter meetings, but after he signed with Boston, the Indians turned their attention to Swisher, who batted .272 with 24 homers and 93 RBIs last season — his fourth with the New York Yankees.
A switch-hitter, Swisher provides power and versatility to new manager Terry Francona’s lineup. The Indians only hit 136 homers last season, second-fewest in the AL.
“This is a big deal,” said Francona. “I don’t think there is any reason for us to be cool about this. I can’t tell you how excited I am to have him. There were a lot of other teams that wanted this guy real bad. This is a big day for us.“
Swisher acknowledged that when free agency began, he didn’t expect the Indians to be one of the teams interested in him. He had several multiyear offers from others, but the Indians were the most aggressive suitor and they used his Ohio connections to convince him to come to Cleveland.
When Swisher and his wife, actress JoAnna Garcia Swisher, visited Progressive Field last month, the club rolled out the scarlet-and-gray — Ohio State’s colors — carpet to impress them. Upon arrival, they were presented with a tiny Indians jersey, sized for a baby. The couple is expecting their first child, a girl, in May.
“That definitely helped,” Swisher said.
The Indians took Swisher on the field and had him walk to home plate. As he made his way onto the diamond, the public address system announced his name and the Indians played messages from Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer as well as basketball coach Thad Matta on the giant scoreboard, urging him to come “home.”