Swisher nominated for Bob Feller Act of Valor Award
Honor goes to one Major Leaguer, one Hall of Famer and one Navy Chief Petty Officer
CLEVELAND -- Nick Swisher was terrified.
Sitting in a helicopter in the middle of war-torn Afghanistan was not exactly where he'd pictured spending his Thanksgiving back in 2010. But there he was, compelled by his desire to express -- in person -- just how much he appreciated the men and women of the United States' armed forces.
"I'm not going to lie, I can't say I wasn't scared," Swisher said. "To have the honor and privilege to go over there was amazing. It's a trip I'll never forget and something I was proud to say that I did."
Swisher and his wife, Joanna Garcia, stopped at a total of 14 forward operating bases -- "pretty much front lines, where the fight takes place," said Swisher -- during their trip to the far side of the world with former Under Secretary of the Army Joseph Westphal. Instead of casual meet-and-greets at well-fortified outposts, Swisher found himself running for his life so that he could visit with soldiers on the edge of a war.
"When you land, you don't just land and walk to the next destination. You land full-geared up, helmets, vest, everything and you run. Finally you get into the safe zone. Everyone's got a gun. And they're saying, 'Mr. Swisher, what're you doing here?'" Swisher said. "[One soldier] said, 'Sir, no one's ever been here before.'"
It was for that journey, along with his involvement in the Wounded Warrior Project and Operation Homefront, that Swisher was nominated for the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award for the second time since it was first given out in 2013. Joining him are Adam LaRoche of the Nationals, Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers, Charlie Morton of the Pirates, Dustin Pedroia of the Red Sox and Brad Ziegler of the Diamondbacks.
The award, which goes to one active Major Leaguer, one Hall of Famer and one Navy Chief Petty Officer, is meant to honor those who have achieved successful careers on the field while serving both country and reaching out to the community. This year's Hall of Fame nominees are Johnny Bench, Tommy Lasorda, Monte Irvin, Whitey Ford and Willie Mays.
Each nominee was recognized at Progressive Field on Friday before Cleveland's tilt with the Royals.
"I think that's a pretty cool award that [Swisher's] nominated for," Tribe manager Terry Francona said. "Whether he wins or not, the fact that you're trying to do something for other people, regardless of what it is, is always a neat thing. I hope those things don't go unnoticed, because there's a lot of players that do a lot of good things."
The award is named in memory of former Indians Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, who served three years in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
"I got to know Bob on a personal level," said award creator Peter Fertig, who invited Feller to write the introduction to a children's book he had authored before Feller's death. "Somebody who just stepped away from the game and came to the service of our country at a time of national need. I wanted to honor him."
Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander won last year's current player award for his assistance of veterans in need of mental health services.
"I thought I had it wrapped up last year, being a Cleveland guy and all," Swisher said. "But any time your name is in the same sentence as a man like Bob Feller for everything he stood for, everything he did for this game, everything he did for this country. ... It's an honor even being a nominee."
But whether he ultimately wins or not, Swisher can at least claim that his actions have matched his intentions to help those in the community -- and on the other side of the world.
"Now that I have a daughter, I can pass on these things to her," Swisher said. "I can say, 'Hey, I'm not just talking about it, we've acually done that.'"
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.