Swanson's tie to Cubs is deeper than many realize

December 21st, 2022

CHICAGO -- Dansby Swanson avoided eye contact with his parents as they looked on and listened from the first row in a press conference room in the Cubs' offices on Wednesday. Chicago's new shortstop wanted to keep his emotions in check as told this story.

Swanson wore a warm smile as he spoke about coming home from school as a kid, running across his yard to his grandfather Herb's house. An afternoon Cubs game would often be playing on the TV, and Swanson would playfully remind his grandpa that they lived in Braves territory.

"I was always like, 'Pops, we're in Atlanta, dude. We're Braves fans,'" Swanson said at his introductory press conference. "It was just something that he loved baseball so much, and all he ever wanted me to be is doing what I'm doing now."

Swanson explained that coming to the Cubs means more to him personally than anyone may have realized. He left his hometown team and signed a seven-year, $177 million contract to play for the North Siders. The goal is to be a part of a winning ballclub, and maybe someday hoist a World Series trophy with his grandfather in mind.

Earlier this month, Swanson married Mallory Pugh, who plays for the Chicago Red Stars in the National Women's Soccer League, while weighing his destination in free agency. The celebration was followed by a trip to be with his grandfather, who passed away the next day.

"Having won a championship in Atlanta for one of his favorite teams," Swanson said, "we just felt that the Cubs, which were his second-favorite team, that bringing a championship to this city was what we felt called to do."

The feeling that the Cubs were the right fit was also helped by Chicago's efforts to recruit Swanson, who was one of the big four shortstops on the open market, along with Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa. The Cubs were in contact with the entire group, but it became clear around the Winter Meetings that Swanson was the realistic target with mutual interest.

The Cubs sent Swanson a video with former pitcher Jon Lester discussing his own decision to sign a long-term deal with the franchise prior to 2015, and what it was like to lead the club to a World Series. Swanson discussed the environment with Jason Heyward (also an Atlanta native), Joc Pederson (a teammate who suited up for the Cubs) and Ian Happ.

Swanson had his representatives put together packets detailing the Cubs' roster and farm system so he could research the team's chances in 2023 and the roadmap for the next few years. The shortstop also looked into Chicago's impressive second half least year, when the club went 39-31.

"I did my best homework," Swanson said. "I really felt like you need to show signs of life to get people to be a part of something, right? And the second half is something that can be built upon going into next year."

Chicago also sent a contingent to Atlanta to sit down with Swanson in person. Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said it quickly felt like Swanson was the one doing the interviewing.

"That really stood out," Hoyer said. "[It was], 'How are you guys going to win? What's your plan? What's your philosophy? What players are you going to surround me with?'"

During the Winter Meetings, Swanson sent a text to Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins and asked if they could chat. Like Swanson, Hawkins is originally from Atlanta and played baseball at Vanderbilt under head coach Tim Corbin.

"I started with, 'Listen, man. You're an Atlanta guy, too,'" Swanson said. "'You're also a Vanderbilt guy. And hopefully we'll be in Chicago together. I need you give it to me as straightforward as you can about the vision, what's ahead, who's coming and how are we actually going to be good?' And I left that conversation feeling better than going into it, honestly."

Swanson then cracked a smile.

"I knew that he would shoot me straight, because Coach Corbin would probably kill both of us if we were lying to each other."

What was Hawkins' message to Swanson?

"I just told him the truth about the things that we're trying to accomplish," Hawkins said. "I can't promise winning, but I told him, 'I can promise you'll be proud to be a Cub and you'll be proud to be a part of what we're doing. And here's what we're doing.'

"And I think that resonated with him. And I'm just really excited about him being a part of our future."

The Cubs are getting a shortstop who led the Majors in outs above average (21) at his position and took home a Gold Glove Award in '22. He hit .277 with 25 homers, 32 doubles and a .776 OPS, while establishing career bests in RBIs (96), runs (99), hits (177) and total bases (286).

Swanson hopes to be on the field as much as possible -- as evidenced by playing 322 games from 2021-22 -- and is looking forward to embracing a leadership role like he did with the Braves. In fact, some of the younger Atlanta players took to calling him "The Sheriff" for how he held the clubhouse together.

"I'm hoping to have a new nickname," Swanson quipped.

First things first, Swanson said he already has obtained a list of names and numbers, so he can begin texting and calling his new teammates. Nico Hoerner, who will move off shortstop and to second base next season, beat Swanson to the punch and already sent him a text to get their communication rolling.

"I'm excited for what's ahead," Swanson said. "I walked down to the field today and I just looked at my wife and said, 'This is where we're supposed to be.' I'm just so excited for this unique journey ahead."