Upbeat Swihart hopes for shot with Rangers

April 9th, 2020

is staring at an uncertain future.

Swihart came to Rangers camp on a Minor League deal with no clear path to the Opening Day roster. Injuries might have increased his chances, but who knows who will be healthy when baseball returns? The competition for jobs is fierce. A catcher by trade, his most attractive attributes are an ability to switch-hit and play multiple positions.

That has 26th man written all over it, but there are others who could fit as the last player on the bench. That’s life “on the bubble” for any non-roster player, but Swihart was hardly fretting or complaining. Life was going great for him during his time in Spring Training.

The 28-year-old Swihart has been through worse -- much worse -- over a nine-year professional career that has taken him from first-round Draft pick and top catching prospect to damaged goods to Minor League free agent looking for a job.

“No, I am pretty happy right now,” Swihart said just before MLB suspended Spring Training. “My wife is pregnant, so it puts everything in perspective. I am having a lot of fun, the most fun I’ve had playing baseball. It’s just fun again.”

Feeling down? No chance.

His brother Jace has been through worse. Swihart’s physical problems began when he sprained his left ankle running into the left-field wall at Fenway Park. Jace’s injury occurred on the battlefield of Iraq, where his leg was run over by an Army Humvee.

“Whether it is physically or mentally, it doesn’t compare,” Swihart said. “The guys in the military do stuff that a lot of people in the world can’t do. They experience a lot of things. Sometimes I’m his happy place when he comes out and watches me play. That’s great for me.”

Jace received an honorable discharge in 2007. It took 12 years before he was declared 100 percent disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs. He now works at installing communication equipment in hospitals and forever will be a hero to his younger brother.

“He knows what I am thinking and how I deal with stuff,” Swihart said. “I like to stay positive and look at the bright side of things.”

That was difficult last spring. The Swihart family went through a traumatic experience when Romell Jordan took his life at the age of 23.

Swihart’s father and mother -- Arian and Carla Swihart -- had become Jordan's surrogate parents when he was a high school junior in Rio Rancho, N.M. Jordan was close friends with Blake’s younger sister Kacie and was distraught he might have to move out of state because of his parents’ divorce. The Swiharts agreed to take legal guardianship.

Jordan was an All-State running back at V. Sue Cleveland High School and received a scholarship to the University of New Mexico, with dreams of playing in the NFL. A torn ACL cut short his dreams of playing professionally, but he graduated from UNM in 2018. Less than a year later, he was gone.

“Him and my wife [Shelby] were close,” Swihart said. “He was my sister’s best friend when they were young. That’s how that whole situation started. He had called my mom, asking if he could come live with us. She said, ‘Only if we take guardianship of you.’ His parents agreed, put him in a better situation.

“He had the same rules that we lived under: get good grades. If you get bad grades, you can’t play sports. You’ve got to get a job. He ended up getting a Division I scholarship to play running back at the University of New Mexico. Got his degree and was working his tail off. That was a tough one for us.”

Swihart’s next Spring Training game with the Red Sox was memorable.

“The team rallied around me,” Swihart said. “I actually played the very next day and the entire team was in the dugout. Got a hit off Max Scherzer and everybody gave me a hug. That was a cool day.”

Swihart had been with the Red Sox since the organization selected him 26th overall in the 2011 Draft. was taken in the fifth round, and they have been close ever since.

“He said he can’t wait to be Uncle Mook to my baby,” Swihart said.

Astros third baseman is another close friend. They both grew up in the Albuquerque, N.M., area and played on many teams together. At the time, Bregman was a catcher and Swihart was a shortstop. Their roles have flipped since then.

“It’s funny how it works out,” Swihart said. “When we step across those lines, he’s not my best friend anymore. After the game, we become best friends again.”

Betts and Bregman became stars. Swihart was Boston's starting catcher as a rookie in 2015, but the last four years have been marked by a series of injuries, demotions, position changes, being designated for assignments and a trade to the D-backs last April. He became a free agent in Septembe when he refused a Minor League assignment.

“A lot of injuries, tough injuries,” Swihart said. “I think everything is a learning curve. I am a firm believer sitting there watching baseball you can still get better even if your ankle is locked up in a boot. It’s just prepared me for whatever is ahead.”

The Rangers signed him with the promise to let him catch again. They saw how turned his career around with the Rangers last season and envision the same for Swihart. His reputation for excellent character and makeup was reinforced in Spring Training.

“It’s phenomenal,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “He came as advertised. We knew the quality of person: tremendous worker, great teammate, great mindset every day, positive. Just carries himself really well. Obviously very competitive when he steps through the lines. Literally everything we want out of a player.”

So Swihart pushes forward and waits to see what happens. Maybe a backup catching job depending on the health of others (, and are on the 40-man roster). A utility role is possible, but who knows how long the evaluation period will be between the time baseball resumes and Opening Day?

This is a difficult time for any non-roster player caught in limbo wondering where he is going to be when the season opens. For Swihart, it could be Arlington, Triple-A Nashville, another organization or back home in New Mexico.

Swihart won’t let it get to him. He has already been through too much.

“I have always been very positive,” Swihart said. “I’m a thoughtful person. I’m probably too nice of a person sometimes. Not saying if you make me mad I won’t kick your butt; I never want to have that stigma in a clubhouse or with people around baseball or people at home watching television thinking I am a bad guy. That’s how I want to live life and have people view me as a positive person. That’s never going to change.”