Indiana Daily Student

IU catcher Dylan Swift is never satisfied

Top of the third inning. As usual, junior Dylan Swift squats behind home plate.

With his elbows fanned out across his knees, he squeezes the baseball as it smacks his glove, twisting it in a way he hopes will make it look more like a strike.

IU’s starting catcher succeeds. The umpire convincingly pumps his right fist, howling “stee-rike” in the only way an ump knows how.

Swift picks the ball out of his glove and fires it back to the pitcher. It’s 0-0 in the first game of IU’s April 17 double-header against Iowa in Bloomington .

The opposing batter changes his strategy. It’s time for a bunt. He gets a piece of the ball, dribbling it down the line between the pitcher and Swift. Both sprint toward the ball, yelling, “mine, mine, mine!”

The pitcher gets there first, and Swift rolls his body out of the way at the last second. He throws his hand up in the air, visibly irritated that he almost ran into his teammate.
The pitcher heaves the ball to first base, and even though the batter is out, Swift is frustrated. His near-error could have cost the team.

***

Swift is severely critical of himself. He estimates that he has about 175 chances to mess up in a game. Just one, and he’s unhappy.

As the catcher, Swift takes responsibility for his team. He says his baseball smarts and leadership on the field are the reasons why he’s even playing for the Hoosiers.

“I was never an elite athlete,” he says, “but my impact on the game could very easily be greater than anybody else in a day-in-day-out scenario.”

Swift’s knowledge comes from a life filled with baseball. His father was a catcher in college, and he started playing as soon as he could walk, tossing the ball up, hitting it and running around in circles.

Although he says he would rather be a pitcher given the chance, he was built for catching. It requires intelligence, patience and prowess — all qualities he possesses.

“I knew that it was the most impact I could have on the game, outside of being a pitcher,” Swift says.

He said he is an “average” athlete at the college level, but catching gives him the opportunity to highlight his strongest assets — leading his teammates and mapping out scenarios.

“It’s kind of like chess,” he says.

Swift is the chess master. He has eight different sets of hand signals to communicate with each of his teammates, telling a player where to go and what to do.

This isn’t the case with all catchers. Swift is trusted more than the average team leader. His coaches and teammates have confidence in his vision and his control.

Assistant coach Ben Greenspan says Swift’s abilities command respect.

“He’s able to take the data from watching one swing and say, ‘This is how I’m going to get this guy out,’” Greenspan says. “He’s calling every
pitch.”

***

Swift stands up from his squat. It’s the top of the fifth and the score is tied 1-1.
He extends his right arm and wiggles his fingers, motioning to everybody that he wants the pitcher to intentionally walk the batter.

The pitcher throws wide, and after four soft volleys, the opposing batter jogs to first base.

Swift is strategizing. He knows that walking this player puts two runners on base for the other team, but there are two outs, and if this next batter hits a ground ball, there’s going to be a force-out at each base.

Swift signals to the pitcher, and his plan is set in motion.

Six pitches later, ground ball.

The shortstop nabs the ball and flips it to second base, where the second baseman makes the easy out.

Check.

***

To the people in the stands, Swift might seem inconspicuous. He signals to his teammates with his back turned to the crowd, hiding his major role.

He hopes to stay unnoticed. If he doesn’t, that means something’s not running smoothly.

Some might say Swift’s mentality echoes that of an offensive lineman in football. He makes it possible for his teammates to perform well, but  he wants none of the credit.

The intricate way his mind works in baseball can be partially attributed to his interests outside of it. He’s built his own computer and originally planned to major in computer science, but because of the NCAA degree progress requirement, he had to switch to general studies.

While he still has the dream of playing in the Major Leagues, Swift tries to be realistic. He hopes to become a college baseball coach someday, helping more from the dugout than behind home plate.

Just like in baseball, Swift is constantly planning out different life scenarios. It’s simply the way he operates.

“I still believe that I could be good enough to succeed at any level,” he says, “but sometimes you gotta step back and say, ‘What if this doesn’t work out?’”

***

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Swift sheds his catcher’s gear to take a swing at the ball. He’s first at-bat and the Hoosiers are ahead 3-1.

As he walks up to the plate, “Still Not A Player” by Big Pun blasts from the speakers. Swift chose the song because it relaxes him. He’s not a player that needs to get hyped up to hit. Plus, it’s a crowd pleaser and was recently voted the second best at-bat song on the team.

As the music wanes, Swift remembers what his hitting coach taught him as a freshman.

When the pitcher winds up, he thinks “yes, yes”. Once the pitch is released, he senses it won’t be a strike, thinks “no” and doesn’t swing.

Ball one.

This time when the pitcher releases, he thinks “yes,” but swings and misses.

Strike one.

He doesn’t have the time to decide during the third pitch. He is struck by the ball and jogs to first base.

The next IU batter bunts and Swift advances to second.

Two batters later, the opposing team’s catcher misses a wild pitch. Swift decides to take off for third base.

Safe.  

***  

In the final inning, the pitcher, following Swift’s instructions, strikes out two batters in a row, ending the game and clinching the 4-1 victory.

IU wins the second game of the double-header as well, topping Iowa 4-3 in 10 innings. Swift plays all 19 innings.

After a brief team meeting and quick tidying-up of the field, the players begin to leave Sembower Field.

They’ve been at the stadium for almost nine hours, and there’s another game against Iowa in the morning.

Swift jogs around the infield with the team’s other two catchers. It’s time for them to clean up, cover the mounds and make sure everything looks ready for tomorrow’s matchup.

Even though IU won both games today, Swift isn’t completely satisfied with his own performance. A missed ball here, a foul hit there, and he’s beating himself up.

“There’s always something you can get better at,” he says.

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