BOSTON — Blake Swihart, a former first-round pick, took batting practice at Fenway Park in 2011 shortly before foregoing his commitment to the University of Texas to sign with the Red Sox.
Now, almost four years later, Swihart is back in Boston as a major leaguer, as the Red Sox called up the 23-year-old catcher before Saturday’s game against the New York Yankees.
“I thought about it almost every day,” Swihart said Saturday, reflecting on his first BP session at Fenway and his dream suddenly realized. “That’s the ultimate goal. It’s a dream come true and I’m excited.”
The Red Sox didn’t plan on promoting Swihart this early in the 2015 season, but circumstances demanded his call-up. Christian Vazquez underwent Tommy John surgery in spring training, prompting Boston to acquire catcher Sandy Leon, and veteran backstop Ryan Hanigan is set to miss significant time after suffering a broken finger in Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Yankees.
“I feel ready,” said Swihart, who figures to receive ample playing time in his first taste of the majors. “I don’t think I’d be here if I didn’t feel ready. Obviously, they feel like I’m ready. I just want to come in here and do anything I can to help this team.”
Challenges aren’t new to Swihart. He worked to become a switch-hitter during his junior year of high school after heeding the advice of Albuquerque Baseball Academy instructor Ryan Kellner. Then, after a high school career in which he bounced around the diamond, Swihart became a full-time catcher in the Red Sox organization, embracing the idiosyncrasies that come with playing such a demanding position.
“I think I’ve improved a lot, whether that’s learning new pitchers or whether that’s learning what they like to throw, when they like to throw it,” Swihart said of his recent work at Triple-A. “Just pitch-calling and everything. That’s my biggest thing that I wanted to improve on this year.”
Swihart clearly has the ability to adjust on the fly, which is made easier by his willingness to accept the tutelage of others. Long before the Red Sox’s coaching staff got its mitts on the young catcher and his incredible athleticism, Swihart made some important sacrifices that shaped his future for the better.
“He kind of mapped out what I was going to do and when I was going to do it,” Swihart said of his father, Arlan, whom he credits for playing a huge role in his athletic development. “He played college basketball and he made me stop playing basketball my senior year of high school. I stopped playing football my sophomore year of high school. He knew what my future was and what was going to take me the furthest.
“I have to thank him for that, and he guided me along the way. Maybe at the time when I was an 18-year-old senior in high school, I was pretty upset not to be able to play basketball my senior year, but in the end, I think it worked out for the best.”
It sure did work out. Swihart, roughly one month removed from his 23rd birthday, is set to embark on what figures to be a long and successful career in Major League Baseball. And commitment and work ethic — in addition to some unforeseen injuries — definitely paved the way.
“This is what I’ve dreamed about ever since I was a little kid,” Swihart said. “It’s exciting. But at the end of the day, I’m here for these guys to do anything I can to help this team win, so I’ve got to make sure I fulfill that.”
As for his 2011 Fenway BP session, well, that was just a pit stop on the road to bigger and better things.
“That time’s actually gone by pretty quick, now that I think about it,” Swihart said Saturday. “That was an exciting time, and here I am again, doing it again.”
Doing it. Just how it was drawn up.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images