BOSTON — Wait, he’s a catcher?
If you had that thought Saturday while watching Blake Swihart motor around from first base on Mookie Betts’ RBI double off the Green Monster, you probably weren’t alone. It’s something the Boston Red Sox should get used to, though, because the 23-year-old backstop is out to break the mold.
“I pride myself on being an athlete. I don’t want to be the typical catcher, I guess you could say,” Swihart said after making his major league debut at Fenway Park. “I want to be able to do it all and stay athletic, and that’s a big thing I work on when I go home in the offseason, is getting my speed up, getting my quickness up, as well as getting bigger and stronger.”
First impressions are OK. But sometimes, they’re overrated. It’s especially true in baseball, where a 162-game schedule can help erase a player’s 15 minutes of fame in 14 minutes flat.
Yet there was a lot to like about Swihart’s debut in spite of the Red Sox suffering a 4-2 loss to the New York Yankees. The rookie catcher basically was as advertised, leaving his mark in all facets of the game, even though he didn’t learn until late Friday night that he’d been shipped up to Boston in the wake of catcher Ryan Hanigan suffering a fractured right hand.
“It was a lot to take in, but you’ve got to learn to control that and play the game,” Swihart said of his whirlwind 24 hours (less than that, really). “Each level you go to, it gets more and more intense. I just want to go out there and harness my nervousness and just go out there and perform.”
Jacoby Ellsbury welcomed Swihart to The Show by stealing second base three batters into the ballgame. Swihart held himself accountable, saying his footwork should have been better, but no one is going to shake their fists at the heavens over one of baseball’s best base stealers swiping a bag against an up-and-comer on the kid’s first day on the job.
Even a ninth-inning strikeout against lights-out reliever Dellin Betances shouldn’t take anything away from what was an otherwise very encouraging introduction.
“That’s Blake being Blake,” Betts said of his teammate’s ability to hit the ground running (quite literally). “He did a good job of blocking a lot of balls. Had some good at-bats, fouling off some pitches.
“I remember my first time going up there and being kind of nervous, so I’m sure he had a couple of jitters. He got his first out of the way, so I think he’s ready to go.”
Swihart acknowledged there were some butterflies Saturday. You’d never know it, though. He guided Red Sox starter Wade Miley through seven strong innings — a feat itself, given Miley’s struggles — and collected his first major league hit in the fifth inning by beating out a ground ball to the right side.
“He’s got age and athleticism on his side,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “ … It’s one game, keep in mind. But I think there’s a reason why so many people are attracted to him within the game and certainly as high as we think of him as well.”
For Swihart, there will be days worse than Saturday. There also will be better days. But it should be an entertaining and fruitful ride for the Red Sox.
Swihart has the tools to be something out of the ordinary. Catchers like him don’t grow on trees.
Thumbnail photo via Gregory Fisher/USA TODAY Sports Images