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When he met the Chicago media on Wednesday for the first time since agreeing to a seven-year, $177 million deal with the Cubs over the weekend (made official Wednesday morning), Dansby Swanson made one thing very clear: being a Chicago Cub is more personal to him than anyone realizes.
Swanson and his wife, Chicago Red Stars forward Mallory Pugh, married on Dec. 10. The next morning, though, he found out his paternal grandfather, Herb Swanson, wasn’t doing well. So, the pair needed to head home to see him.
“We pretty much left our wedding venue the next morning, drove home and basically had to rush over to the senior living facility where he was at,” Swanson said during his introductory press conference, pausing for a moment to collect himself and even doing his best to not look at his parents seated in the front row. “He ended up passing away on the day after we got married.”
The sadness in Swanson’s voice was clear, but it gradually turned to happiness when discussing early memories with his grandfather.
He talked about running over to Herb’s house after school everyday, when he would “pretty much demand” that he hit him ground balls. Herb always obliged, because he one day wanted to see his grandson become a Major League Baseball player. And having grown up in the Atlanta area, Swanson’s family was full of Braves fans, so it was a dream for him to spend his first seven big league seasons with his hometown team and to win a World Series title in 2021.
But thinking back to those days of going over to his grandfather’s house for some grounders, something always stuck out to him.
Herb was a Braves fan, of course, but he was also just a baseball fan in general. And at that point in time, when Cubs games were still broadcast nationally on WGN, it only made sense that Herb ended up watching them regularly — to the point he actually became a fan of the “Lovable Losers,” too. That’s where Swanson’s Cubs connection began.
“Everyone likes the Cubbies, right? He just kind of grew into that love of appreciating the Cubs and watching the Cubs and started to have this affinity and love towards Chicago,” Swanson said. “It’s funny. I would always be like, ‘Pops, why are you watching Cubs games, dude.’ He just loved baseball so much and they were on all the time, and he just kind of grew to be a Cubs fan.
“Whenever I say it’s a lot more personal to me than people realize, there’s definitely the story behind it.”
That, among plenty of reasons Swanson outlined Wednesday, is why he’s grateful to be the Cubs’ new shortstop. After helping bring home Atlanta’s first World Series championship in 26 years, he said he “felt called” to go to the Cubs and try to win a title with his grandfather’s No. 2 team.
Fortunately for Swanson, the pressure of ending “The Curse of the Billy Goat” is gone after the Cubs won their own World Series title in 2016, the same year he debuted and 108 years after the franchise’s last championship. That used to be part of the allure of playing for the Cubs, because anyone who could help break the curse — as we very much know now — would become immortal in Chicago.
Without being able to use that as a way to sell Swanson on the team, the Cubs had to use other measures.
They put together a video of how Jon Lester came to his decision to sign a long-term deal with the club prior to the 2015 season. One part of the video that stuck with Swanson was Lester discussing how what was then the hardest decision of his life became, in hindsight, the easiest one.
The Cubs contingent also made the trip to Atlanta to recruit him in person, which as it turned out, almost became like Swanson interviewing them.
“‘How are you guys going to win? What’s your plan? What’s your philosophy? What players are you going to surround me with? Who are the prospects that are coming?'” said Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer about the kinds of questions Swanson asked during the meeting. “It was very clear — winning was the priority.”
Swanson also knew that, if there was one person who would be completely honest with him about the team, it was Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins. Hawkins is an Atlanta native himself, he played baseball with Swanson’s older brother when they were kids and — like Swanson would later — he played for head coach Tim Corbin at Vanderbilt.
So, after the sides met in Atlanta, Swanson reached out to Hawkins to set up a phone call during the Winter Meetings earlier this month. And that call really moved the needle for him.
“I’m pretty sure I started with, ‘Listen man. You’re an Atlanta guy, too. You’re also a Vanderbilt guy, and hopefully, we’ll be in Chicago together.’ Like, ‘I need you to give it to me as straightforward as you can about the vision and what’s ahead and who’s coming and how are we actually going to be good?” Swanson said. “I left that conversation feeling better than going into it, honestly.”
“I knew that he would shoot me straight, because Coach Corbin would probably kill both of us if we were lying to each other,” Swanson added with a smile.
All of that, plus the conversations he had with ex-Cubs such as Jason Heyward and Joc Pederson, as well as new teammate Ian Happ, led to him signing with the Cubs. But now, the pressure is on.
The eight-year, $184 million contract Heyward signed prior to 2016 was the last position player contract of at least six years given out by the Cubs, and it remains the only contract in franchise history larger (in dollars) than Swanson’s. Heyward didn’t live up to the contract as far as the on-field performance goes, and out of that disappointment grew a bit of a wariness in the fanbase for signing players to long-term deals. Now, it’s up to Swanson to prove to those same fans that the Cubs made the right choice in giving him that contract.
To his credit, he said he doesn’t feel any added pressure, considering he had enough put on him when was the hometown kid tasked with bringing a championship back to Atlanta.
“I’ve never been one to back away from challenges. I always feel like you should just face them head-on,” Swanson said. “At the end of the day, the vision and the goal is to win. Winning is the priority, and when that is the vision and that’s what you want to do, you make everything about winning.”
So, pressure or not, it seems the Cubs have found the right man for the job who himself believes he’s now in the right place.
“I walked out on the field today,” Swanson said, “and I just looked at my wife and said, ‘This is where we’re supposed to be.'”
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