Swindle living out a dreamApril 3, 2007
Article courtesy of CSU Magazine
|RJ Swindle on campus following the 2006 season|
This article by Scott McCain, CSU Athletic Communications, originally appeared in the winter 2006 issue of the CSU Magazine.
Good pitchers have short memories, the saying goes. Whatever happened during the last at bat—a strikeout or a homerun—the pitcher must quickly forget previous triumph or failure, and focus on the current challenge.
RJ Swindle has experienced both success and disappointment, and whether or not he’s forgotten either, has become one of the best pitchers to have ever worn a Charleston Southern uniform.
In high school, Swindle dreamed of playing collegiate baseball in-state, with the University of Central Florida, his hometown school, as his first choice. UCF, South Florida and the University of Florida welcomed him—as a recruited walk-on. State scholarships would fund much of his education, but “they told me I might see some time as a middle reliever, but I really didn’t have what it took to play in Division I,” Swindle recalled. In fact, only one Division I school offered him scholarship money.
“I hadn’t even heard of Charleston Southern before. The [CSU] coaches saw me at Clemson on a travel team, and I had my worst outing,” Swindle said, “but they believed in me. They told me I would have a chance to start, a chance to play right away. Since CSU was a Christian university, it made it easier for my parents to ‘let me go’, so to speak. Looking back on it, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else. It was definitely the Lord’s leading that brought me here.”
Swindle became CSU’s number-one option from day one, getting the most starts each of his three seasons as a Buccaneer. As a freshman, he was the Big South Conference Rookie of the Year, and the next year he earned the Big South Player of the Year honor. His final two seasons he was named to the All-Big South first team. After only three seasons, Swindle held the school career record for strikeouts, wins, and innings pitched.
Following his sophomore 10-5 campaign, he began to draw interest from major league scouts (and from other Division I institutions that tried to entice him to transfer) and was told that a repeat performance next season would land him in the 2004 draft somewhere between rounds five and ten. While his junior season was good by all accounts, it did not live up to the expectations of some scouts, but the Boston Red Sox continued to show interest and called him the night before the draft to ensure that he would sign if picked.
Draft day was bittersweet for Swindle. Each round as the Red Sox’s pick came up, the entire Swindle family sat anxiously, only to be disappointed. Rounds five through ten came and went, then 11, then 12, then 13. With the 425th pick in the 14th round, the Red Sox drafted RJ, and although his draft order was lower than hoped, he would live the dream of playing professional baseball.
He spent his first summer in Lowell (Mass.) in the New York-Penn League, where nearly all new draft picks play their first year, and performed well while playing through some back pain. In the offseason, he discovered that the pain stemmed from a herniated disc and received treatment in Charleston just months before he expected to enter Boston’s farm system. However, management was not pleased for two reasons: one, that Swindle did not use the team’s medical network; and two, that they now had “damaged goods” on their hands that would, in their opinion, would never make it in the pros. Boston cut him.
Swindle was devastated. “It was a real test of character,” he recalled, “thinking my career was over, but the Lord helped me through it.” His agent arranged a tryout for him in Orioles’ camp, but the back issue resulted in another release. In May, Swindle landed a spot with the Schaumburg (Ill.) Flyers, an unaffiliated team in the Northern League. From May 2005 to June 2006, he accumulated the lowest earned run average in the league, which drew attention from the Yankees’ organization, one of Swindle’s favorite childhood teams.
On a flight to Calgary, the call came from his agent—the Yankees had picked him up and he was back in affiliated minor league baseball. His assignment to the Charleston Riverdogs was a mixed blessing: he was back in the town he called home while at CSU with friends and familiar faces and places, but Charleston is the Yankees’ lowest class (low single-A) affiliate. Instead of dwelling on the disappointment of the assignment, Swindle focused on the opportunity to advance. He compiled a 4-2 record and notched two saves in tight ballgames.
Prior to the ‘Dogs final homestand, his opportunity came. September call-ups sent players from the AAA Columbus (Ohio) Clippers to the Yankees, which opened spots on the Triple A roster. With Trenton, the Yankees’ AA team, embroiled in a playoff race and not wanting to disrupt its lineup, three Riverdogs received the promotion, including Swindle. “I was very shocked and excited,” he said. “Lots of guys play their whole careers and never get a chance to reach this level, not even for four days.”
RJ began to think the call-up was honorary, seeing no action in the first three games, but got his chance in the season finale on the road at Toledo. In front of the biggest crowd of his career, Swindle pitched two scoreless innings, allowing only one hit and getting the save in Columbus’ 4-1 triumph.
So, what’s next for Swindle? “I’d like to start next season with a Double A assignment, which I think is pretty realistic, and we’ll see where it goes from there,” he said. Making it into the major leagues is something that no former Buccaneer has ever done, but if past obstacles overcome is any indication, this lefty who wasn’t supposed to be good enough to play Division I may play on the biggest stage of all sooner rather than later.
Editor's note: Swindle had been working out with the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees' AA club, but was released in the last round of cuts prior to MLB opening day. His plans are to pitch for the Newark Bears of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball until he is re-signed by a major league team.