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How Dansby Swanson’s Cubs signing reunited two Georgia families

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Back when Dansby Swanson was weighing his college options, his father, Cooter, made a call to one of the dads from his older son Chase’s travel-ball days.

Cooter Swanson and Scott Hawkins had spent many games together in the bleachers supporting their respective teenage sons, Chase and Carter, and East Cobb. Hawkins kept score. Swanson enjoyed talking baseball with him.

Dansby was only 7 or 8 at the time, off playing for his own team. A decade later, however, Vanderbilt showed interest in Dansby. Cooter knew Carter Hawkins had played for the Commodores.

‘‘I’m sure this guy’s just another guy,’’ Carter Hawkins remembers thinking when his dad relayed the conversation. ‘‘Sure enough, it was Dansby.’’

Yes, it was Swanson, the shortstop Hawkins, now the Cubs’ general manager, helped court in free agency last winter. When Swanson signed his seven-year, $177 million contract with the Cubs, the deal also reunited two East Cobb Baseball families.

‘‘Carter comes from a really bright family,’’ Cooter said over the phone. ‘‘It wasn’t a surprise to me. I guess it was fortunate for us that he’s in Chicago.’’

It was fortunate for the Cubs, too.

Swanson’s signing was a turning point in the Cubs’ offseason, a signal their rebuild was over. He has lived up to the high expectations, making defense a team strength, securing his second consecutive All-Star nod and encouraging a win-today approach from top to bottom.

• • •

Swanson’s years at Vanderbilt were formative for him as player and leader, in a large part because of Tim Corbin, the Commodores’ legendary longtime coach.

‘‘He has such a unique ability to be your coach, your best friend, your mentor and your second dad all at once,’’ Swanson told the Sun-Times. ‘‘And he knew when to tap into each one. And so you build a relationship on trust and honesty.’’

Swanson remembers Corbin brushing his teeth as he walked in to address the group one day. That piqued his players’ interest. Corbin launched into a lesson on first impressions — studies show teeth are one of the first things Americans notice — and broke down stats on the number of people who walk through campus and see the baseball field every day.

‘‘He knew how to get the most out of me,’’ Swanson said. ‘‘And then that gave me the comfort to be able to be honest back to him. Because that was the only way that I could make sure that everything was going in the right direction, that every standard that we had was being upheld.’’

Hawkins, a backup catcher years before Swanson’s time at Vanderbilt, didn’t play much. Looking back, however, he sees how his experience served as a launching pad for his career.

‘‘It’s no mistake that there are so many resilient baseball players that have come through there,’’ Hawkins said. ‘‘And it’s not the easiest four years — or three years, for guys who are a little better than me — but some of the most rewarding.’’

Hawkins isn’t sure exactly what his dad told Cooter, but Cooter said it was a glowing review.

Hawkins and Swanson crossed paths a couple of times over the years, but they didn’t get to know each other until last offseason. That’s when Hawkins, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and manager David Ross met with Swanson and his representatives Dec. 1 in Atlanta to make their pitch.

Swanson, one of the Big Four free-agent shortstops, heard a lot of teams’ spiels during the course of his free agency.

‘‘When you meet with someone, they’re obviously going to put forth their highlight reel,’’ Swanson said. ‘‘They’re going to put forth their best pitch. And so I was skeptical from all spectrums, no matter what team.’’

As Swanson tried to sort fact from fiction, his dad gave him advice.

‘‘To me,’’ Cooter remembers telling his son, ‘‘you should just call Carter and say, ‘Carter, Vandy boy to Vandy boy, I have to know if what you’re telling me is what you’re doing.’ ’’

Dansby dialed Hawkins during the winter meetings and asked for his honest evaluation of the Cubs, putting aside their roles as recruiter and recruited.

‘‘There was a lot more comfort and trust built after that,’’ Swanson said, ‘‘just because we had a very lengthy, straightforward conversation about this organization and where it was and where they see it going and why they see it going.”

Swanson, trusting their shared experience, believed Hawkins.

‘‘Lucky,’’ Hawkins said. ‘‘It’s easy to believe the truth.’’

• • •

It’s easy to see how Swanson has put his stamp on the Cubs on the field. Beyond his play, however, his emphasis on straightforward conversation continues to mold the team behind the scenes.

‘‘We signed him to be part of something bigger,’’ Hoyer told the Sun-Times. ‘‘And he really wants that. He wants to be part of building something sustainable and long-lasting.’’

When Swanson was on the injured list with a bruised left heel for two weeks in the middle of July, free time and the approaching trade deadline amplified those forces. The Sun-Times confirmed that Swanson was outspoken with the front office about the value of adding talent.

Restless and getting a rare view from the sideline, Swanson looked at his team from a big-picture perspective. He’d pass Hoyer in the hallways and suggest they sit down later. After a while, the clubhouse cafeteria became their regular meeting place.

The Cubs were in third place in the National League Central and hovering around seven games back when Swanson and Hoyer began their cafeteria chats. But Swanson was adamant the team was worth an investment at the trade deadline.

‘‘The biggest thing for me was, it’s such a careful game to play of, ‘I don’t know if we have it this year, we’ll just shoot for next year,’ ’’ Swanson said. ‘‘At some point, you can’t always just shoot for the next year. You have to consistently push the right messages to players.’’

After Swanson returned from the IL, the Cubs went on their pre-deadline push, which included an eight-game winning streak. Hoyer and his team chose their lane, acquiring the best available impending free-agent hitter, Jeimer Candelario, and reliever Jose Cuas.

‘‘I was on him every day, you can ask him,’’ Swanson said. ‘‘I was annoying.’’

Hoyer laughed when he heard Swanson’s self evaluation.

‘‘We need to keep him healthy,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘He was bored.’’

Those conversations weren’t isolated. Swanson has embraced Hoyer’s and manager David Ross’ openness to collaboration.

Lineup consistency is another topic Swanson feels strongly about. And he has had what he called ‘‘honest conversations’’ about the subject with Hoyer, Ross and teammates.

‘‘He’s going to have the same at-bat, [no matter where he hits], but the guys around him don’t feel that way,’’ Ross said. ‘‘And everybody’s different in how they feel. So just talking baseball with the guys that have been around, have been around winning, it’s healthy.’’

Conversations with Swanson have reinforced some of Ross’ views as a former player. Baseball players are routine-oriented. The way Swanson sees it, consistency does more than bring out the best in each player in the lineup.

‘‘We’re all worried about winning now,’’ Swanson said. ‘‘We’re not worried about, ‘What am I going to do today?’ ’’

Any baseball conversation with Swanson inevitably turns back to winning.

‘‘I haven’t felt one minute of contract stuff with him,’’ Ross said. ‘‘You would never know being around this guy how much money he got this offseason. Which is super-rare.’’

• • •

Swanson’s preoccupation with winning has been a theme for a long time.

‘‘He is your quintessential hates, hates, hates losing — so much,’’ Chase Swanson said over the phone. ‘‘I don’t care if it’s June 28, an interleague matchup that doesn’t really have much bearing on [the season], or if it’s Game 7 of the World Series.’’

Chase was there for Swanson’s World Series victory with their hometown Braves in 2021. And last spring, he traveled to Mesa, Arizona, with his wife and kids to witness the beginning of a new chapter.

There, Chase and childhood teammate Hawkins reunited. Chase, who went on to play baseball at Mercer and is now a lawyer in Georgia, remembers how friendly Hawkins always has been.

‘‘He probably wouldn’t want me saying that was the No. 1 thing that I remember about him as an athlete,’’ Chase said. ‘‘All athletes want to be remembered as the best position player, the fastest guy or something like that. But Carter was hands down one of the nicest guys I ever played with.’’

Hawkins’ memory of Chase was similar: ‘‘extremely smart, extremely nice.’’

Hawkins and Chase reminisced about their East Cobb days, shared notes about former teammates, caught up on each others’ lives. Hawkins asked Chase how breakfast with his sister, Justice Sarah Hawkins Warren, went. That was another connection bridged by Swanson’s signing with the Cubs: Justice Warren, of the Supreme Court of Georgia, and Chase long have been working in Georgia law. They finally grabbed breakfast together last winter.

Since Swanson committed to the Cubs, one conversation with Hawkins stands out for Cooter.

When he and his wife, Nancy, joined Swanson in Chicago for his introductory news conference with the Cubs in December, Hawkins gave Cooter the reassurance he needed in one sentence.

‘‘He said, ‘Mr. Swanson, I promise you that when Dansby leaves here, he will be proud he was a Cub,’ ’’ Cooter recalled.



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