Through the month of March, leading up to MLB Opening Day on April 1,
Sports Spectrum is highlighting 21 Christ-following players to watch in 2021.
The Atlanta Braves are building what they hope will be another sustained run of success highlighted by a young, talented nucleus. One of the key players in that is shortstop Dansby Swanson.
The former No. 1 overall draft pick out of Vanderbilt was traded from the Arizona Diamondbacks to Atlanta in 2015, and has since cemented himself as the everyday shortstop and one of best all-around shortstops in the game.
The Braves lost in Game 7 of the 2020 National League Championship Series to the eventual champion Los Angeles Dodgers, but Swanson hit a home run in that game. Atlanta felt like the pieces were there for a World Series championship and is hoping to capitalize on that momentum in 2021.
“That was our last hurdle and obstacle that we had to get through as a team and a franchise,” Swanson said recently on the Sports Spectrum Podcast,. “We have to learn how to win in these moments. I feel like the Dodgers had their couple of years where they had to go through it before they kind of finally broke through, and I think that’s kind of where we’re at.”
A solo shot to the 2nd deck to put the Braves up 2-0! pic.twitter.com/LcTiVHA9fR
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) October 19, 2020
In the shortened 2020 season, Swanson led the NL in at-bats with 237, which resulted in 10 home runs, 35 runs batted in and a .274 batting average. That put him on pace for what could’ve been a career year in a full season.
And he felt heading into last season that it was going to be a significant year for him. While he was attending Cross Point Church in Nashville, pastor Kevin Queen and author Annie F. Downs prayed over him.
“I really felt this past offseason going into this 2020 season … I felt this calling that something was going to be different for me in my spiritual life,” Swanson said.
Downs, a Georgia native and vocal supporter of Swanson, also told him that she felt it was going to be a big year for him.
Though it ultimately ended up as one of his better years statistically, it was still challenging for him. COVID-19 interrupted and paused the season during spring training and, like everyone, he dealt with the secondary and tertiary consequences of the pandemic from a social perspective.
On the podcast, Swanson opened up about his battles with anxiety and other mental health struggles over the past year. He recalled a time where he was on a walk with his girlfriend, U.S. women’s soccer star Mallory Pugh, and just felt immense weight of anxious feelings.
“I was very paralyzed with fear, or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “I was having a hard time breathing. I was having a hard time speaking, moving. I had to, like, think about it to do it. It was very robotic.”
He said regular meetings with mental wellness coach Dr. Armando Gonzalez helped him get back into a routine of reading his Bible and meditating, and he started to feel more in touch with who God created him to be. Swanson described a conversation he had with God in prayer, saying, “You wouldn’t give these things to me if I couldn’t handle them or, like, really, really succeed at them.”
It fostered a deeper reliance on God, and that’s ultimately what Swanson credits to his focus and success on the field.
Then he said Brooks Webb, who serves as the director of baseball operations at Vanderbilt, told him that his best career year will follow his best spiritual year.
“That really stuck with me because  was my best year, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that it’s because of how much my spiritual life had grown,” Swanson said. “If anything, the lesson that I’ve learned was that you can’t go wrong trusting and growing closer to God.”
The loss in Game 7 still eats at him some, but he said he’s trying to channel that into motivation heading into the 2021 season. If the Braves make a run, Swanson figures to be a major part of it.
“Going forward, we have that belief and knowledge that we are capable of winning a World Series,” he said. “We keep getting better. I think that sometimes gets overlooked that we have such a good group — such a good core, young group.”
— 21 MLB Players to Watch in 2021
— NEW PODCAST: Dansby Swanson – Atlanta Braves Shortstop
— 2018 PODCAST: Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves Shortstop
— NEW PODCAST: Annie F. Downs – Podcast Host, Author
— Braves’ Freddie Freeman prayed for his life while battling COVID-19