Dansby Swanson went 2-for-4 last night. OK, so who is Swanson, and why am I writing about him?
Swanson is a 22-year-old baseball player, a shortstop, who made his major league debut last night for the Atlanta Braves.
I'm drawn to Swanson because he plays for the Braves, the team I've supported forever but which has the worst record in baseball this year and badly needs help (especially if you saw the box score of last night's 10-to-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins, which has the next-to-worst record).
Rookies are making their big league debuts all the time. Atlanta, in a "rebuilding" mode, leads all of baseball this year with 11 such debuts. But Swanson is the best of the lot. He was rated (by the people who rate these things) the No. 1 overall major league draft choice in 2015, and this year he is rated the No. 5 overall prospect in the game. In the minors this year prior to his call-up he was batting .261, with doubles power. That's not great work at the plate, but it's okay at this stage of his "development" (a term baseball managers often use in discussing their prospects) and he's likely (we fans hope) to get better. He fields his position well and is regarded by scouts as a "natural" team leader. Management deemed him big-league "ready."
I happen to have something in common with Swanson, which is that we both went to Vanderbilt. (So did TWS online editor and fellow Braves fan Mike Warren.) There the comparison stops: Swanson played baseball for a Vanderbilt program that was (and still is) one of the best in the country while I covered (many years ago) an indifferent Vanderbilt team for the student newspaper. Swanson was an All-American who in 2015 was the key member of the team that won the College World Series. Only once has another Vanderbilt team won a national championship—the women's bowling team, in 2007.
But I digress. A major league debut is big, especially if you play—as Swanson does—for the team near your hometown that you grew up rooting for. And especially if the game in which you make your debut is not on the road but at home—as it was in Swanson's case—thus making it easier for people you grew up with to attend the game. Swanson is from Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta.
Baseball is relentlessly about numbers, and Swanson collected his first ones last night. Batting eighth, he lined out to centerfield in his first at-bat. In his second, he lined a single to right field. Next time up he struck out. But then, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, as if to say that even a 10-to-3 lead can be overcome that late in a game, he singled up the middle into center field, a sharply hit ball that the pitcher could not move quickly enough to deflect.
That is how Swanson went two-for-four and now has a gaudy .500 batting average. He won't keep that up; no one ever has. The law of averages will kick in for Swanson, both at the plate and in the field, where no balls were hit to short and Swanson had only two force-outs, both at second base. A perfect night with the glove!
Before the game Atlanta outfielder Jeff Francoeur (another local boy) told Swanson, "Today is the only day you can suck." Actually, you can suck longer than that. Fans are generally pretty forgiving about rough starts. It's the players you sometimes have to worry about.
The Baseball Almanac tells the famous story about Willie Mays's debut with the Giants, a game in which he went 0-for-5 at the plate. After he had played a few more games and had gone 1-for-25, he told his manager, "I can't do it, Mr. Leo [Durocher]. You better bench me."
A good thing he didn't.