Swinney slipped away from Clemson’s spring football practice to speak to the St. Louis Cardinals and take a little batting practice Sunday.
“Kyler Murray’s not the only guy with conflicts,” Swinney said, referring to the former Oklahoma quarterback and 2018 Heisman Trophy winner who initially signed with the Oakland Athletics but chose the NFL instead. “I’ve got baseball and football going on. That’s what I told my team yesterday. I was like, Kyler ain’t got nothing on me. I’ve got called to the big leagues. I’m on a plane. I’m heading out.”
Two months ago Swinney coached Clemson to a 44-16 victory over Alabama in the national championship game for the Tigers’ second title in three years.
St. Louis manager Mike Shildt contacted Swinney about 10 days ago to see whether he’d be interested in speaking to the Cardinals about creating a winning culture.
A three-sport athlete in high school who considered walking onto Alabama’s baseball team as a shortstop before ultimately choosing Crimson Tide football, Swinney jumped at the opportunity.
“I really always thought I’d make it to the major leagues — this just isn’t how I thought I’d get here,” Swinney said.
He addressed the Cardinals for 50 minutes, explaining how at Clemson coaches and players create daily habits that generate excellence over the course of a season.
“Some of the core values that he teaches to his kids down there, we got a glimpse of it today,” third baseman Matt Carpenter said. “He’s got a special thing going. It was a thrill to get to listen to him talk.”
St. Louis presented Swinney with a red Cardinals jersey bearing No. 88, his football number at Alabama.
After speaking to the team, the 49-year-old Swinney eagerly awaited his chance to take some major league swings. Shildt originally considered giving Swinney his hacks on a back field.
“We were like, nah, this guy’s a stadium guy,” said Shildt, sitting a few feet from a Clemson helmet autographed by Swinney.
Borrowing Carpenter’s bat and donning a red Cardinals spring training cap that didn’t exactly blend with his purple and orange Clemson knit shirt, Swinney took about 15 swings right-handed — displaying the warning-track power he predicted — and then another handful of cuts from the left side.
“Better from the right side, for sure,” Shildt joked.
Afterward, Swinney raised his arms above his head and pronounced the experience a “dream come true.”
Swinney wasn’t the only special guest to visit the Cardinals on Sunday. St. Louis great Lou Brock also made his first appearance in camp.
“It was great because I had a two-time national champion, and I walk out in the hall and there’s a Hall of Famer and World Series champion,” Shildt said. “It’s like, what world am I living in now?”
By CHUCK KING, Associated Press