Emotional Swanson: The Cubs were an emotional pick

CHICAGO – Dansby Swanson’s first pick was Atlanta.

But the former Braves shortstop said his second pick was emotional — because the newest member of the Chicago Cubs used to watch their games with his grandfather, who passed away just a week earlier.

“Every time I walked in, he’d start the Cubs game,” Swanson said a little tearfully Wednesday during his opening press conference at Wrigley Field. “He loved baseball so much… Being a Cub meant more to me than people realize. It’s no secret that I quit my hometown team to be here.”

Swanson, an Atlanta native, signed a seven-year, $177 million contract extension with the Cubs on Wednesday, the second-richest deal in franchise history. One source reported that the Cubs had “removed” the Braves’ bid, making the decision to leave Atlanta a little easier.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope to go home,” Swanson said. “Atlanta is where I always envisioned myself, especially after I got traded. I’m a homebody, and my family is right there. My roots are deep there, but at the end of the day I’m here.” [to the Braves] Many in the off-season…and have a distinct sense of going forward.

“We were on our honeymoon, and we felt like this was where we were meant to be regardless.”

Just a day before the death of his grandfather, whose second favorite team was the Cubs, Swanson married professional soccer player Mallory Bowe, who happened to play for the Chicago Red Stars in the NWSL. Swanson said the two prayed for the decision to join the Cubs club, which he sees on the rise despite winning just 74 games last season.

“I am obsessed with the winning ride,” Swanson said. “It’s crazy how fast you can turn a page, but as fast as you turn this page it can go back the other way.”

The Cubs made the postseason every year from 2015 to 2018 and again in 2020, but have rebuilt over the past two years after bye stars Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Chris Bryant and others.

In terms of joining the Cubs, Swanson’s free agent talks with the team went both ways.

“The thing that caught my attention was that I felt like he was interviewing us,” said team principal Jed Hoyer. “How are you guys going to win? What is your plan? What is your philosophy?” It was very clear that winning was the priority.”

Back at the end of last season, Swanson was well aware of where the Cubs fit into the baseball scene. They went 39-31 in the second half, counting on pitching to carry the day. With the addition of the seven-year veteran, they can claim to improve their defense at quarterback as the Cubs will hire a Gold Glove winner at shortstop, a former winner (Cody Bellinger) at center field and a former finalist (Nico Horner) at second base.

Horner ran short last season but has been told he will be back for second.

“You’ve got some good veteran talent, some young guys who are really starting to do better and then you start mixing in some guys like Niko, myself, Cody Bellinger, Jameson Tellon, and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is going to be a pretty complete team that has the ability to compete at a competitive level. high.

Swanson is convinced he can find another level in his offensive game. He’s shown more power over the past two seasons – 52 home runs total – but at the cost of a high strikeout rate. He struck out 182 home runs in 2022, the fifth-most in baseball.

“I feel that over the past three to four years I’ve had a track record of constantly improving and I feel that trend is far from over,” he said. “I’m starting to work with guys I trust offensively. I feel like the sky’s the limit and the potential is being tapped now.”

This desire to improve was not lost on Hoyer, who found Swanson’s questions about the team and coaching staff impressive.

“I can’t imagine two better free agent traits than that: How are we going to win here and how are you going to make me better?” Hoyer said.

Swanson was the first pick in the 2015 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks before being traded to Atlanta the following year. He helped the Braves win a World Series in 2021 and is the second high-profile player to leave Atlanta in two years, after Freddie Freeman returned to his hometown to play with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

Swanson does the opposite, leaving where he grew up but coming to a team in need of leadership. It is a team his grandfather would have been happy to see him play for.

“I went down to the field today and looked at my wife and said, ‘This is where we’re supposed to be,'” Swanson said.

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