“I kind of just want to be able to soak it all in, when it does happen,” Swanson said. “I spent six, seven years of my career here. Nothing but great memories and support from everyone, from obviously the people up top to the guys you grind it out with every day to, obviously, the fans here. Everyone’s always shown me a lot of love and respect. Especially when it’s your hometown and where you grew up, it obviously means a ton, if not a little bit more. I think ‘grateful’ is just, like, the common word that I’ve been thinking about.”
This is the tone Swanson took Tuesday, when he talked in front of many of the same cameras, recorders and phones he did while playing for the Braves. He spoke in the visitors dugout, which is foreign territory to someone who spent his first seven MLB seasons with the Braves.
When the lineups were announced, Swanson earned extended cheers from fans. When he came up to bat for the first time, he stepped out of the box and tipped his helmet toward the crowd as fans gave him another ovation.
Swanson, who still loves Atlanta, deserved this recognition. He debuted for the Braves. He helped them win a World Series. He led them.
“That he was a hometown kid and showed up every day and left his heart on the field,” Braves infield coach Ron Washington said of Swanson’s legacy. “And he was a tremendous teammate.”
On Monday, the Cubs, like the Braves, were off, which allowed Swanson to spend the day at home. He woke up in his own bed. He went to his parents’ house for dinner. The staples of the meal were creamed corn and fried okra, which are two of Swanson’s favorites. (He’s grateful his mother took the time to cook these.)
“Nothing but love and smiles,” Swanson said of being back home, including the chats with his former teammates Tuesday at Truist Park.
But the Cubs arrived in Atlanta on a mission. They entered this series tied with the Diamondbacks for the second and third wild-card spots. Chicago needs to win this week.
If you know Swanson, this isn’t an issue. He hates losing. On Tuesday afternoon, he talked with Max Fried, Travis d’Arnaud, Spencer Strider and others. No one who knows Swanson would question his ability to focus during an emotional time.
“I think winning is always the most important thing, and will continue to be that way for probably as long as I live, whether I’m playing or coaching or doing whatever I’m doing,” Swanson said.
Even so, Swanson said returning home “helps keep the juices flowing,” which can be difficult at the end of a long season. Players are banged up and tired. They’re mentally exhausted. This homecoming has been rejuvenating.
The Braves on Tuesday greeted Swanson with what could end up being a back-breaking defeat, depending on whether the Cubs make the postseason: The Cubs led, 6-0, with their ace, Justin Steele, on the mound, but the Braves mounted a massive comeback and won, 7-6. The final two runs scored because right fielder Seiya Suzuki missed a routine fly ball that would’ve ended the eighth inning. Swanson, who went 0-for-4 with a walk and a run scored, struck out to end the game.
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
When Suzuki made that costly error, the Truist Park crowd roared. This time, Swanson found himself on the other end of the pandemonium that so often occurs here.
Earlier in the day, Swanson talked about his love for Atlanta sports fans. After all, he is one. He’s a die-hard Falcons and Hawks fan.
In spring training, he made comments in a USA Today story that offended some Atlanta sports fans. (The comments seemed to spin out of control because of social media and content aggregators.)
“This team means so much to so many people, which is very similar from the place I just came from,” Swanson told USA Today at the time. “From the gist I’ve gotten so far, pro sports in Chicago are a massive deal. Pro sports in Atlanta are like, well, kind of a deal.
“It’s not a knock against anything about Atlanta, trust me. I’m a huge Falcons fan and big Hawks fan, but it’s just different. Cubs fans, Cubs everything, is just a little bit different.’’
On Tuesday, Swanson said this of the fan bases: “Braves fans are everywhere from TBS, Cubs fans are everyone from WGN, and the loyalty runs so deep. Being able to experience that on both sides has been nothing short of amazing.”
Last season, Swanson observed how Freeman handled his Atlanta return. He didn’t text him before his own, though. “I know he’s busy,” Swanson said. Swanson also has had teammates return to their former homes this season, and he’s asked them how they’ve dealt with it.
Unlike with Freeman, who had a public display of emotion, Swanson’s story is not juicy. He took more money with Chicago than the Braves offered him. He said there’s no animosity between him and anyone in Atlanta.
Yes, he’s here to win.
But it’s clear how grateful he is for how everyone has embraced him in his return.
“Everyone knows it’s an emotional time,” Swanson said. “I’ve spent so much time here, and I’ve appreciated every second of it. And now, being able to come back and just feel that same kind of love is pretty awesome.”