As the New York Yankees’ catching coordinator and quality-control coach, Tanner Swanson has a full slate of duties. Several times a week he goes over video with All-Star catcher Gary Sanchez, and every day he participates in a Zoom conference call with Yankees staff.
But like everyone else in pro baseball, Swanson has a lot of unexpected down time to fill during this shelter-at-home period of the coronavirus pandemic. And the Cle Elum native — who has strong local roots as a former player at Green River College, Everett Community College and Central Washington University, and a former volunteer coach for five seasons at Washington — is putting it to noble use.
Swanson started a program of instructional baseball webinars he dubbed “Coaches vs. COVID.” He later found out that, unbeknownst to him, a group of football coaches were using the same name, but Swanson forged ahead with his plan.
The idea is to impart the baseball knowledge of himself and others he recruited to the cause — many of whom are part of the wave of Northwest-based coaches who have infiltrated professional baseball — while raising money for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to support COVID-19 research.
“Honestly, it’s just filling a desire that I think a lot of coaches right now have, which is to figure out a way they can do something positively to impact the situation we all find ourselves in,” Swanson said. “Personally, I have this feeling of helplessness, being bunkered down and not being able to do anything to help.”
It’s designed as an instructional tool for fellow coaches, but players are welcome to participate, too. And if it inspires other coaches to pay it forward, so much the better.
“This is by no means polished,” said Swanson, who is riding out the coronavirus shutdown in Roslyn. “In a lot of ways, it’s raw and unplugged and organic. Really, we’re trying to either inspire coaches to tune in and participate in the events we have organized, or better yet, organize their own events, whether it’s through our platform or not.
“Whether your network is big or small, whether you coach high-school baseball or professional baseball, I think everyone has an audience and a network of people they can connect with. That’s the idea, not to try to limit to only major-league coaches. Just try to get as many people involved as possible. I think we all have the ability to influence and share information. That’s the genesis of it.”
Information on the presentations, which are conducted over Zoom three or four times a week, can be found at Swanson’s twitter account, @tannerswanson. Zoom links are posted there anywhere from half an hour to an hour before the events, which have drawn an average of about 150 people for each.
The next webinar — there have been about 25 — will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, and the topic is catching. The guest instructor is Tim Cossins, the Baltimore Orioles’ catching coach. Last week, Mariners Hall of Famer Dan Wilson and Mariners minor-league field coordinator Tony Arnerich, formerly their catching coordinator, conducted a clinic.
The webinars are free, but participants are encouraged to donate $10 to $25 to the Fred Hutch through this link: http://engage.fredhutch.org/site/TR?fr_id=1574&pg=team&team_id=12642. All money raised goes to support COVID-19 prevention and treatment research under way at Fred Hutch in collaboration with the University of Washington, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Swanson said they have raised close to $25,000 in just about a month.
Tanner is the son of Jim Swanson, the left-handed catcher on the fabled Portland Mavericks minor-league team that was the subject of the documentary entitled, “The Battered Bastards of Baseball.” Jim was is the former owner of Swannie’s, the popular bar in Pioneer Square.
The Hutch is a cause close to Tanner Swanson, whose sister died of breast cancer in 2018. When he found out they were also conducting important COVID-19 research, “it felt personal and a natural place to direct my efforts to.”
Presentations run the gamut of baseball topics, from pitching to hitting to defense, many of them position specific. They are conducted in Q&A format, with access to the chat room for questions. In addition to Arnerich and Wilson, Swanson said Mariners farm director Andy McKay and pitching coordinator Max Weiner have expressed an interest in participating.
The way Swanson looks at it, the more the merrier. He’s happy to see there have been fundraising offshoots through other platforms. But the core group of coaches are mostly Northwest-based, many of whom he met running UW’s youth camps — peers he described as “young, hungry coaches who have since matriculated into professional baseball.”
That includes Kai Correa, the San Francisco Giants’ bench coach; Craig Driver, the Chicago Cubs’ first-base and catching coach; Cody Atkinson, the Texas Rangers’ hitting coordinator; Donegal Fergus, the Minnesota Twins’ hitting coordinator; and Billy Boyer, the Twins’ infield and baserunning coordinator.
“They were on board instantly,” Swanson said. “It’s slowly branched out beyond that, and we’ve had other coaches from other organizations that I don’t necessarily have direct ties to that expressed interest and wanted to get involved. It’s been kind of a grassroots effort, which was by design, in some ways, and it’s been fun to watch it grow.”
It’s hard to think of a better way to learn a little baseball and support a worthy cause.