2/11/2013 7:08 P.M. ET
Swisher quick to make his presence felt -- and heard
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Nick Swisher had a bounce in his step as he organized his belongings at his locker inside the clubhouse on Monday morning. His head began to bob to music only he could hear, his mouth quietly singing unknown lyrics.
Swisher then filled the clubhouse with the hook of his improvised tune.
"It's Triiiibe Tiiiime."
The brief burst of song created some soft laughter around the room.
Swisher is a man who marches to his own beat -- or, apparently, to the rhythm of his own song. On his first day in camp with Cleveland, the right fielder made his presence felt. His teammates did not even need a visual to know that Swisher -- the club's prized free-agent acquisition in one of the busiest winters in team history -- had arrived.
"I haven't had a chance to meet him yet," reliever Vinnie Pestano said. "But I have heard him."
Swisher's arrival represents a change in culture around camp.
There is a new leader in the manager's office in Terry Francona, a reorganized coaching staff and plenty of new faces inside the clubhouse. Such things tend to happen in the wake of a season like the one Cleveland turned in last year (94 losses), but the organization chose to attempt a blend of restocking and rebuilding in constructing its current cast.
Swisher represents the former after penning his name to a four-year contract worth $56 million. It's the biggest free-agent deal in Indians history, and if his 2017 option vests, the $70 million he will have earned will represent the largest signing of any kind by the Tribe.
The Indians added the 32-year-old outfielder first and foremost for what he has accomplished on the field over the course of his career, but his energy and potential as a leader for this relatively young roster also played a role in the commitment.
"Last year we didn't really have anybody like that in the clubhouse," third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall said. "He'll definitely be fun to be around. It'll get everybody up for every game. He's a good piece to the team. His track record coming in, he can play, he's a good player.
"That's definitely somebody you want to have on your team. For him to be the kind of leader, and vocal leader, that he is, that's definitely going to be something we need."
Swisher is ready to embrace his newfound leadership role, but he also knows it is something he will need to ease into as he gets familiar with his new teammates.
"I'm just getting to know these guys," Swisher said. "That whole leadership thing, that's something that's earned. You can't just tag that on somebody. I'm just trying to do my best to try to go out and be the best player-slash-leader I can be."
The switch-hitting Swisher has averaged 149 games per season over the past eight years and has been a picture of consistency at the plate. He has averaged 26 home runs, 31 doubles and 83 RBIs over that span -- similar to his production last year with the Yankees. In 2012 he hit .272 with 24 homers, 36 doubles, 93 RBIs, a .364 on-base percentage and a .473 slugging percentage.
In New York, Swisher was a complementary player on a team laced with star power.
With the Indians, he's practically the face of the team already.
"It's crazy," said Swisher, who then let out one of his signature full-body laughs. "In New York I was one of the younger guys, and then I come over here and now I'm one of the older guys."
Age aside, Swisher has always been one of the loudest.
His youthful exuberance almost seems like an act until witnessed on an everyday basis.
"You can't pull that off if it's an act," Francona said. "He's legit, man. He's like that every day."
On Monday, Swisher practically bounced off the walls, joking with teammates and shaking countless hands as he bobbed and weaved throughout the player development complex. He met the grounds crew and the clubhouse workers, and even introduced himself to the team chefs.
"Good aura," he said of his new surroundings. "It feels nice, man. There's a good energy in here."
Although Swisher is not one to complain, he did have one problem with his first day in Goodyear.
"It rained!" he shouted, throwing his arms into the air. "We didn't get to hit outside!"
Inside the indoor batting cage, Swisher turned up the volume a few notches on his own, but he was left wanting more.
"The first thing he said was, 'We need a radio,'" Chisenhall said with a chuckle. "He'll probably bring one tomorrow."
"We need to get some music in there," Swisher confirmed. "For sure."
It remains to be seen whether Swisher's offensive production will meet the expectations tied to the kind of contract he signed, but it is clear that the team will have some fun with him around. As last season spun out of control, fun was an aspect that was noticeably missing from both the field and the clubhouse.
"He's like a big kid. I think that's contagious," infielder Mike Aviles said. "I'm excited to be around him because I'm probably going to be a little bit bigger of a kid. He definitely brings that energy."
It takes more than energy to win games, though. Maybe the Indians have made the moves to catapult themselves into contention in the American League Central, maybe they haven't. That will be determined over the next seven-plus months.
As far as Swisher is concerned, that should not be the current focus for a club in Cleveland's position.
Swisher -- a lifelong boy now serving as a leader of men -- wants this team to relax.
"It's going to be a great year," he said. "There's no expectations or anything. We're just going to go out there and just play our game. There's still a lot to be determined on what this roster is going to shake out to be, and that's exciting, because there's a lot of options."