Chris Swauger Transitions From Player To Coach

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(Photo by Jarah Wright)

If you’ve been to any Johnson City Cardinals game this season, chances are you’ve seen manager Chris Swauger in action. It’s his third season as coach and second season as the manager of the rookie league club. The Cardinals lifer has had anything but an ordinary journey through the minors. If you ask him, professional baseball seemed out of reach after college.

“I was at home and had quit listening to the draft because I just assumed it wasn’t going to happen. I just happened to be passing through the office. We had left the draft on but weren’t really listening,” Swauger said. “I peeked in and saw my name pop up on the screen and was like hey, that’s me. I was like oh wow. That really just happened. I ran outside where my parents were by the pool screaming I got drafted. They asked who. I said the Cardinals and my mom was like okay, they’re alright.”

Swauger grew up around the Tampa area and said the family was always Rays and Yankees fans but he was excited for the opportunity to continue his baseball career.

“I was happy to be drafted even though all the scouts that I had talked to had said I’d go higher. I now know how the system works and stuff like that but it was great experience. It was very fortuitous that I walked through when I did to hear my name get called.”

The lefty utility player mainly played in the outfield as he worked his way through the Cardinals system.

“Unfortunately I didn’t play at Johnson City. I started with our Penn League affiliate because of more my age than skill level and basically hit every stop along the way,” Swauger said. “I’ve enjoyed everything from the way we do things, the way we approach the game, the way we play. Coming from a military school, the way we pay attention to details and take care of little things appealed to me and helped me in my career.”

One of those stops included a Texas League Championship with the Double-A Springfield Cardinals in 2012.

“Our Triple-A manager Mike Shildt was the manager of that team and every time I joke with him that he wasn’t a very good manager because the entire lineup one through nine made it to the big leagues except me and he batted me fifth,” Swauger said laughing. “But that was a lot of fun. It was a great team not only talent-wise but also because of the people. The Cardinals not only make good ballplayers but also create good quality human beings and I think there were a lot on that team.”

And the Cardinals saw something in Swauger that would allow him to stay in pro baseball even after his playing career was done. However, Swauger wasn’t ready to stop his major league run just yet.

“Coaching was brought to my attention during spring training in 2014. I had just come off of an All-Star year in Double-A and to be quite honest, I just wasn’t ready to do it and still thought I had stuff left in the tank as a player,” Swauger said. “The Cardinals were gracious enough to let me keep playing through to see if any spots opened up.”

When no spots opened up, Swauger decided to ask for his release for the shot to keep playing elsewhere but things didn’t go according to plan.

“I kind of floated out there in no man’s land for about three weeks before the Phillies called me and I was awful,” Swauger said. “I was a terrible player for about two weeks before they released me. But it was a good thing because it helped me to get over myself with that mentality that I was still a player who could make it to the big leagues. I don’t think if I had accepted coaching when they originally asked me that I would have been a very good one because I would still be focusing on me and not the guys I would be coaching.”

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(Photo by Jarah Wright)

Swauger then accepted a position to be the hitting coach for Johnson City in 2014 before becoming the manager in 2015. Since then, Swauger said he has focused on learning as much as he can and imparting wisdom that players can carry with them throughout the minors.

“A lot of our job, all the coaches but mine especially, is to kind of observe. You give them things they will use throughout the Cardinals organization like the fundamentals but at the same time I’ll try to figure out what each individual guy does well and find their weaknesses,” Swauger said. “The biggest thing is to establish a relationship with them, find some common ground, and try to get them to trust you. As you go along, help them as much as you can. A lot of times I stay out of the way and encourage them to be themselves and to do what got them here.”

And while the team has found success in 2016, Swauger said there are still things he wants to improve on as a coach.

“I would definitely say throwing batting practice. I get a little wild every now and then. I get way too many guys thrown out at the plate but that’s okay. That will come with experience,” Swauger said. “The biggest challenge for me as an outfielder is knowing how to position infielders and managing pitchers because I’ve never really had to pay attention before. I would be in the outfield seeing who’s coming in. I never really had to think about why they’re coming in or potential situations and matchups or think three innings ahead. It’s not something I’m awful at but it’s always a challenge to work through these types of things.”

Another challenge is seeing the big picture of the game instead of focusing on your position.

“Seeing the game is tough because when you’re a player, you really only see it with tunnel vision. But when you’re a manager, you have this broad spectrum and you’re always paranoid you’re going to miss something. I do all the time.”

But with another season winding down, Swauger said there’s no place he’d rather be than in the Cardinals organization that gave him his shot on draft day.

“It’s a great honor and it obviously shows a lot of faith on their part. I work as hard as I can to reward that faith,” Swauger said. “They give me great feedback and I learn so much from the staff around me and the staff above me. They guide me and I appreciate how much they’ve helped me.”

And when asked about moving up, he just smiled.

“I guess I’m the youngest manager but it’s by like a month. The guy that’s a month older is like three levels ahead of me so maybe I’m not as advanced. But if I keep working hard, maybe one day I’ll get there.”

Pulaski Yankees In Photos

The 2016 Pulaski Yankees are a fun team to watch with the amount of talent showcased at each game. Here are some of my favorite shots from the past few homestands:

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Kevin Cornelius

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Isiah Gilliam

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Spencer Mahoney

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The team in Star Wars jerseys

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Josh Gardiner

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Victor Rey

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Estevan Florial

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Dermis Garcia

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Welfrin Mateo

Pulaski Yankees vs Kingsport Mets

In its first road trip of the season, the Pulaski Yankees took on the Kingsport Mets in an Appalachian League Subway Series. Although, it should be more like the I-81 series since there aren’t really subways in Tennessee or Virginia. The Yankees took two out three winning the first and the third games 11-5 and 7-1 while dropping game two 6-4. The team moves to an overall record of 3-3 on the season. Here are some pictures from the games in Kingsport.

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Pulaski Yankees vs Danville Braves

Thursday was Opening Day in the short-season Appalachian League. Several teams were rained out including the Yankees. Danville won both games in Friday’s doubleheader 14-6 and 2-1 respectively. Saturday, Pulaski notched its first win of the season 9-5. Here are some of my favorite shots from this homestand.

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Lynchburg vs Myrtle Beach 6/12/2016

It was a hot and humid day at Calvin Falwell Field as the Lynchburg Hillcats took on the Myrtle Beach Pelicans Sunday afternoon and came away with a 3-2 win. Hillcats’ reliever David Speer picked up the win to improve to a 3-0 record pitching for two innings allowing one hit and one run while striking out two. Pelicans’ reliever was tagged with the loss for his first decision of the season after pitching for a third of an inning allowing one hit and one run while walking two and striking out one. Here are some photos from today’s game.

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Luis Lugo

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Luis Lugo

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Bobby Bradley does the splits to get Rasad Crawford at first.

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Daniel Salters behind the dish.

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David Armendariz makes the catch in left

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Greg Allen makes the catch close to the warning track

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Trevor Clifton fires towards home

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Erick Castillo

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Jason Vosler

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Rashad Crawford

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Anthony Santander

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Yu-Cheng Chang

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Jason Vosler

One Night In Salem

On a breezy, Tuesday night, I made the trip to Salem to watch the Red Sox take on the Lynchburg Hillcats. LewisGale Field is definitely a unique venue. (You can read more about my visit on Ballpark Digest.) The Red Sox came away with a 5-1 win with Matt Kent picking up the win after pitching 5.2 innings allowing eight hits and one earned run while striking out seven. Here are a few pictures from the game.

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A Minor League Journey: Season 4

Another year, another season. And just like 27 Dresses, I’m once again interning for a minor league baseball team. I’ve written about my past two cross-country journeys and decided to chronicle my adventures to Virginia. The 1,000+ mile journey ended up taking about 17 hours that I spread out over four days to give myself a break from all of the driving. It can be stressful and tiring when you’re by yourself.

The first leg of the trip was from my home in Texas to Memphis, Tennessee. I decided to knock out a four-hour chunk of driving before stopping to stretch my legs in Little Rock, Arkansas. My first stop was the state capitol complex and it didn’t disappoint.

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The bronze front doors were a cool touch.

After exploring for a bit, I hopped back in the car and crossed the river to Dickey-Stephens Park, home of the Arkansas Travelers. As luck would have it, none of the stadiums or sports venues I visited were home so empty ballpark pictures it is.

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The ballpark was named after two sets of brothers…

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One of the coolest buildings had to be across the street from the ballpark behind left field that had a home-plate cutout designed into the side of the building.

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My last stop in Little Rock was The Old Mill at T.R. Pugh Memorial Park. It is famous because it was in the opening shot of Gone With The Wind. They say it’s not well-known but it was packed with families throughout the park.

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From there, it was on to Memphis. While I didn’t go to Graceland while I was in town, I did pass it. It looks like it has been turned into an Elvis theme park because he was literally everywhere on that side of town.

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Then it was time to explore downtown where I got a glimpse of the Memphis Redbirds ballpark. The brickwork is absolutely gorgeous. It was hard to stop and check out the ballpark because it is right in the heart of downtown with parking almost impossible to locate.

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I’m a musician so while I was in town, I went on a tour of the Gibson Guitar Factory. There were no photos allowed inside the production facility. I can’t show you the new frost blue guitars that will hit the market later this year and I can’t show you the second signature guitar that is being released with Rush’s lead guitarist Alex Lifeson that will be released in 2017 but I can tell you about them. (Side note: our tour guide had the best Tennessee accent I’ve ever heard. He said if you ask him nicely he could speak more Northern for you.)

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And across the street from the Gibson Guitar Factory is the FedEx Forum where the Memphis Grizzlies play. I had no idea until I was walking around town that pretty much all of the major sports venues are literally down the street from each other.

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A quick stroll down Beale Street later and it was back in the car for the next chunk of driving to Nashville. On the way I saw a sign for The Ballpark at Jackson. I thought I had mapped out all of the minor league stadiums on the trip but apparently I missed this one. I drove past it on the interstate before quickly turning around to get a glimpse of the Jackson Generals ballpark.

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The ballpark is located towards the back of a huge sports complex run by the city of Jackson. They were some of the best baseball and softball facilities I’ve seen and you can tell the city puts a lot of pride in them. It was Memorial Day weekend and the parking lots were packed with parents and ballplayers running around. My first stop in Nashville was going to be the new home of the Sounds but a mistake in my GPS took me to Greer Stadium, the team’s former home. It was sadly in disrepair with concrete breaking, grass growing all over the infield, and the famous guitar scoreboard looking like it’s about to fall off the outfield wall.

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Greer Stadium

The parking lots and areas surrounding Greer Stadium were all closed and locked up. I was only able to get the photo from visiting Fort Negley, the ruins of a Civil War fort that had a trail that went right past the ballpark. After seeing the old ballpark, it was time to see the new one but like Greer Stadium, it had chainlink fencing around most of the park. However, instead of everything falling apart, this was due to tons of construction surrounding the ballpark including new apartment complexes.

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I was bummed I didn’t get to see them play because Trisha Yearwood threw the first pitch out the night after I was in Nashville.

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I worked on a Hank Williams movie about a year and a half ago and have always wanted to see the Ryman Auditorium in person so I checked that and the Grand Ole Opry off the bucket list. I also walked around town to see the Tennessee state capitol complex and Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans, which many of my guy friends would argue is the real state capital.

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By this point in the trip, I had spent about 10 hours on the road and was ready to get to Virginia. So I knocked out the last chunk of the trip and got into the mountain town of Blacksburg six hours later and called it quits. It should be a fun summer spending time in the Yankees organization and having more minor league baseball fun.