NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel hit a sharp groundball to Dansby Swanson, the Atlanta Braves shortstop was in position to make a play he had trained his whole life to make.
So on Nov. 2, at 10:22 p.m. in Houston, Texas, Swanson fielded that groundball and threw sharply across the diamond to teammate and first baseman Freddie Freeman for the final out of the 2021 World Series. Swanson and the Atlanta Braves had become champions.
“I feel like just through experiences, whether that’s in college, whether that’s in pro ball, just being on big stages, you have to take every play for what it is,” Swanson said about that moment. “You can’t look ahead, you can’t look behind, you got to make every routine play routinely.
“As many games as we play you have to be focused all the time, especially in the playoffs, because one play could make or break your season. I’m just thankful the ball came my way and I was able to make the play.”
That crowning moment of Swanson’s 2021 season – and of his career to this point – was just another notch on his large belt of major baseball accomplishments. And now, not more than two months later, Swanson will add Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame inductee to his lengthy resume.
Swanson and 10 other Commodores will be enshrined during a ceremony Jan. 28 at the Vanderbilt Student Life Center.
“It was definitely the last thing I was expecting, but it’s a tremendous honor. I’m so thankful to be a part of this year’s class,” Swanson said. “It’s such a blessing. This year has had some ups and downs for sure, but it’s been quite the year. I’m looking forward to (2022) being even better.
“The World Series was a story of its own and then being able to get engaged and on the road to marriage is extremely awesome as well. And then this – three great things and I get to experience every bit of it with my family and friends.”
Vanderbilt athletic director Candice Lee tried to break the news to Swanson in October, but the 27-year-old was a bit busy chasing down that World Series ring. He admits he thought Lee simply wanted to discuss all the details of Vanderbilt’s ongoing Vandy United campaign.
In reality, Lee wanted to let Swanson know he’ll have a permanent place in Vanderbilt Athletics’ great history even though he is less than a decade removed from his playing career.
The Marietta, Georgia, product spent three seasons with the Commodores and was an integral part of the program’s run to the College World Series in 2014 and 2015. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2014 CWS as Vandy won its first national title in program history.
A No. 1 overall pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015, Swanson made his Major League Baseball debut in 2016 with the Braves. He’ll go into the 2022 season as a .249 career hitter having played in 665 career games.
But before revving back up for baseball, Swanson and fiancé Mallory Pugh, a professional soccer player and member of the United States National Team, are just trying to get some rest.
“I played 193 games, including spring training, so mentally, physically, spiritually, a lot of that stuff can get beat down pretty quick after a year like that,” Swanson said. “A lot of it is just recovering, being able to enjoy time with (Pugh) and my friends and family and with the people I care about the most. Looking forward to putting in the work together to accomplish the same kind of things next year.”
Vanderbilt SS Dansby Swanson (@LieutenantDans7) goes full Jeter in the bottom of the 9th of a 6-4 @VandyBoys Regional win over Indiana. pic.twitter.com/ow9yAHg8Qy
— This Day In Sports Clips (@TDISportsClips) May 31, 2021
After a shoulder injury cut Swanson’s freshman season at Vandy short in 2013, he returned with a vengeance and became one of the greatest Commodores of all time over the next two seasons. Swanson played in 143 games in that span, hit 18 home runs, drove in 98 runs and put on defensive show after defensive show from both shortstop and second base.
Swanson’s defensive stop against Indiana in the 2015 NCAA Regional in which he ranges to his right, fields and throws while jumping still sticks out to him as one of the greatest plays he ever made in a Vandy uniform.
That play was far more difficult than the one that ended his 2021 season, but Swanson made both look easy. And he credits a Hall of Fame career in Nashville as laying the foundation for all that has followed.
“I think one thing is you got to learn how to breathe. It sounds simple, but there’s moments where it’s so easy to get focused on everything that’s going on around you that it all speeds up. But the only way you can really get better at that is experiencing it, going through it,” he said. “So just from my time at college, from some of my times at professional baseball – even sometimes during high school basketball season you experienced a lot of pressure-filled moments. Just trying to slow everything down, relax. I feel like the good lord made me that way during times like that to be able to slow everything down and enjoy what moment you’re going through. That’s what I was able to do throughout this postseason.
“It’s easy to take it for granted. I feel like I’ve been a part of winning teams and cultures the last, about, 10 years of my life. It’s easy to take that for granted, but I know that these things don’t happen very often. You don’t get in the playoffs every year like we seem to be doing. That just doesn’t happen. You got to make it happen. That’s a testament to who we are and the characters to the people on our team.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.