INDIANAPOLIS — The first at-bat of his 2022 season at Triple-A Indianapolis wasn’t what Travis Swaggerty was hoping for, but unlike in years past, the outfielder had no problem putting it in perspective.
For one thing, even though he’d struck out, Swaggerty had placed two good swings on the ball and sent them down the left-field line, only barely missing an extra-base hit in his first regular-season action since shoulder surgery in May 2021. For another, he knew what he had waiting at home for him.
Swaggerty’s first week of the 2022 season also marked his first time playing since he and his wife Peyton became parents to daughter Sutton Hollie in September, and his new role as a father has helped provide needed perspective as he nears getting himself back on track to earn a promotion to Pittsburgh.
“It’s helped me with the results,” Swaggerty said. “Sometimes when I had a bad game, I’d take it home with me and let it ruin my night. But now that I have a child, I can’t let that happen. I have to be the best dad I can be as soon as I see her, and that goes along with being the best husband I can be for my wife as well.
Swaggerty’s new responsibility has also helped him keep things in perspective during his recovery from the torn labrum he suffered in May 2021. Because of soreness in his shoulder, the Pirates opted to restrict him to designated hitter only for his first week in Indianapolis as a precautionary measure, with plans to have him start throwing to bases in practice to make sure his shoulder can handle the work.
Despite rainy weather in Indianapolis to start the season, Swaggerty got enough work in to play center field in the opener of the Indians’ second-week series at Saint Paul. Last week, he said that although his shoulder felt fine, he understood and agreed with the Pirates’ patient approach.
“Throwing is one of my favorite things to do, but (if I push too fast) I could easily blow it out and end up hurting myself because I’m super aggressive when it comes to that,” Swaggerty said. “They’ve done a good job restraining me a bit and taking care of me.”
At the plate, he’s picked up exactly where he left off before missing out on most of the past two years of action. On April 8, he knocked home the game-winning run on a walk off single with two runners in scoring position. The next day, he came up with a single and a double, and he hit safely in four of his first five games in Indianapolis.
Through all of it, he’s made sure to listen to both his body and the doctors in the Pirates’ organization to make sure he’s not pushing himself too hard too quickly.
“It’s really just making sure that I put my body in position to get going,” Swaggerty said. “Even with going in the cage, I could very easily walk in there and start hitting, but that’s just not smart for the whole season. With the amount of reps that we take, it’s best that I keep my body primed to do whatever I need to do.”
For now, taking his time and getting some extra work on his hitting is fine with Swaggerty, especially after the lockout robbed him of some of the time he’d have normally had in Bradenton to prepare for the season.
“There’s still some progression to be made,” Swaggerty said. “I didn’t have that many at-bats in spring training, and after not hitting for a year, I think it’ll just take a little time to get some more reps under my belt before I feel 100 percent comfortable.
“Hitting is the hardest thing to do in sports, but taking your BP every day and trying to mix it up as best you can to make it as game-like as possible makes that transition a lot easier. Our staff does a pretty good job of that, and I take ownership of that as well.”
One thing that’s made that much easier is his family. A common theme in baseball is that too much pressure can make hitting nearly impossible, but Swaggerty now finds himself in the opposite situation. He remains focused on his goal of reaching Pittsburgh, but with a strong family life behind him, he’s finding it much easier to relax at the plate and move on to the next play.
“When I struck out, I wanted to get mad, but I’m like, ‘I get to go home to a wife and baby that love me no matter what. If I have a bad game, they’re not going to love me any less,’” Swaggerty said. “That gave me such a sense of peace, and now I can sit back, enjoy what I’m doing and play for them.
“If I know that I can go home to something positive no matter what happens in the game, that gives me a very good sense of peace, and I think you’ll see that in my results on the field. I’ll be playing with so much comfort.”