One was terrorism the other is health-related yet the parallels, two decades apart, seem uncanny to Greg Swindell.
Pitcher Swindell won the World Series in 2001 with the Arizona Diamondbacks at a time sport was needed more than ever as a normalizing force. The 17-season major leaguer joins the coaching staff of the Victoria HarbourCats during a similar type moment 20 years later.
“After 9/11, sports helped bring the world back,” said Swindell.
“To be playing the Yankees in the World Series, and to be in New York and visiting the site [Ground Zero] so soon after it happened, was an amazing experience. I think people were happy to put themselves inside a baseball stadium to forget about things for a few hours. Sport helped the world bounce back in 2001.”
Swindell believes it can again in 2021 as the pandemic looks to be heading into the beginning-of-the-end phase with the vaccination programs in North American expected to be completed by September.
“It’s the same type of situation in many ways to 2001 and sport can again bring people together. Hopefully, the [West Coast League] season can happen this summer,” said Swindell, who was selected to play in the 1989 MLB All-Star Game.
Swindell said pitching in the all-star game with the great Nolan Ryan, his boyhood idol growing up in Texas, is a career highlight. He remembers Ryan telling the others in the dugout how nervous he was despite his stature, which put all the younger pitchers more at ease around him.
The hiring of Swindell as bench coach to head coach and five-season major-leaguer Todd Haney completes the HarbourCats coaching staff. It includes another major leaguer in pitching coach Mark Petkovsek, who played nine seasons in MLB. All three men, combining 31 years of MLB experience, came out of the University of Texas Longhorns NCAA program.
“We may need a translator with all the Texas drawl we’ll hear in our dugout,” said HarbourCats GM Jim Swanson.
Swindell met up with Haney in Victoria two summers ago during a stop-over on an Alaska cruise. Haney showed him around and Swindell was sold: “I fell in love with the city.”
Swindell is enshrined in both the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and College Baseball Hall after a 43-8 record with a .192 ERA and going to the College World Series championship game twice during his starry Longhorns career. He remains connected to the program as part of the Longhorns radio broadcasts.
“I’ve been around the game a long time and this is a great opportunity to pass on knowledge,” said Swindell, about his Victoria coaching gig.
Leagues such as the WCL feature top NCAA and other collegiate players in summer play.
“What kids want to hear from a former major leaguer is how do they get over this bump or that bump they might encounter in their careers. The kids listen to that. We’re not always right, but sometimes we will be. We will be able to give them the knowledge to help them progress over the summer.”
The second overall selection in the 1986 MLB draft, Swindell played for the Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros and Diamondbacks in amassing a 123-122 major-league won-lost record with 1,542 strikeouts and 3.86 ERA. The 56-year-old native of Fort Worth, Texas, made three appearances as a reliever for the Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series and wears his ring proudly.
“The World Series year was my 15th season in the majors and you kind of get to thinking that maybe it’s not going to happen,” said Swindell.
But it did, and in the most trying of circumstance emotionally, just a month after 9/11. Now comes another year in which sport can potentially help in healing and recovery.