How Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson Stays Laser Focused On Game Day

By Stephen Ostrowski
Photos by Jace Lumley

Appearing in just his third season and his second full campaign, Dansby Swanson’s professional baseball career is still very much in its infancy. In conversation, though, the 24-year-old shortstop for the Atlanta Braves hardly betrays his youth, projecting a cool, stoic confidence reminiscent of a seasoned vet. “Winning, being aggressive, taking advantage of the game,” reflects the Georgia native’s take-charge approach to the game. “Going out and getting it, instead of being passive.”

Indeed, “passive” is the last way to describe the ex-Vanderbilt University star and his upstart style of play—just watch a highlight reel of his did-he-do-that defensive acrobatics and it’s little surprise as to why he was the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. Clearly, the fleet-footed infielder has produced real results, as the Braves currently sit atop the National League East standings, thanks in no small part to his dazzling glove, offensive spark, and kinetic hustle.

Expectedly so for an individual playing one of the game’s most grueling positions, preparation and discipline is of paramount importance for Swanson. As the season closes in on the halfway point, we chatted with the electric up-and-comer on how he cultivates mental and physical toughness, the personal importance of journaling, and why he pours loves into the city that’s equally as smitten with the quickly rising talent.

 

 

Baseball players are notorious for being superstitious. What are some of your superstitions, if any?

I’m number seven, and I’ve always thought numbers six and thirteen were unlucky. I avoid those numbers as often as possible. Even going to a restaurant, looking at the order number, if they give me one of those numbers I ask them to switch it.

And then a lot of it is routine. I wouldn’t say superstition, but I always get dressed the same way before a game, I always do the same things when I hit, I always have certain little things I always have to do so I feel like I’m prepared.

 

 

Baseball’s a game of streaks: Sometimes you’re hot, sometimes you’re slumping. How do you stay grounded during the really hot, high times, and how do you bounce back from the low times?

I think the biggest thing is learning how to stay balanced. Like the same thing in life, if you get super high, you’re gonna get that low. That’s how it works. It’s the law of averages. Everything’s about balance. The more you can stay in the middle, the better you can start to be consistent. It’s a game of streaks. The good times don’t always last, and the bad times don’t, either. It’s just having the mindset of continuing to prepare and work everyday for what you want, whether it’s going good or not.

Off the field, I do certain things that kind of help me be comfortable. I write a lot. I’m a good writer, so I journal at night. It’s just one of those things that helps me get everything from my brain onto paper and makes it easy for me to go to sleep and be less anxious. We’re athletes, we’re humans, too. We battle the same types of things other people do.

 

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When you are in the game, how do you slow the game down for yourself?

A lot of it, for me, is through breathing. The more you can take deep breaths and relax, it allows you to naturally slow everything down. When your heart beats at a slower pace, then you obviously have a chance to relax a little bit more and you can perform at a higher level. That’s part of it. The other part is just trust in your training. If you’re training the right way, nothing ever gets too fast.  

What’s been the biggest pinch-me moment of your big league career?

It was pretty emotional the first time putting on that uniform and going out on the field, but there hasn’t been a really specific moment for me where I was like, “Man, I’m here,” you know? Because I’m trying to stay in each moment and value each moment, every day. I’m trying to continue to progress how I want to.

What’s it like to represent your home state?

It’s more of a community thing for me than it is just the baseball. I’ve always prided myself being the best that I can be, but playing at home motivates me to be a better person and be who I’m meant to be. This community means so much to me, I want to give back to it, which is kind of why “All Things Loyal.” 

 

 

Can you go into detail on that and what “All Things Loyal” means to you?

I came up with the idea in spring training that I wanted to tell my story, because I feel like my story is unique, and I wanted people to hear it specifically from my mouth instead of someone trying to explain it for me.

I think Atlanta has so many things to offer that people don’t necessarily realize or understand. They don’t understand or recognize that every rapper is from Atlanta; they don’t realize that  really big movies have been made here or that one of the most influential people ever, Martin Luther King, Jr., was from Atlanta. There are so many amazing aspects of this city that people just don’t know about. I wanted to tell the culture of Atlanta through my eyes and why this place means so much to me.  I really wanted to show people that it’s OK to love the city like I do and that it’s OK to want to better this place because you’re from there.

What were your emotions like when you stepped onto the professional field the first time?

It felt like I finally reached where I wanted to be. I worked my whole life, since I was literally four or five years old to be in that moment. That was pretty special, for sure.

 

 

How do you those emotions from that first game with the Braves compare to the emotions that you feel now?

The games now are pretty steady. You learn and you grow and you become accustomed to it. Slowing the game down, taking a breath . . . Being able to be centered and balanced allows you to perform better. The emotions can still be there, depending on how the game is going or whatever it may be, but at the end of the day, you strive to stay grounded, which allows you to perform at your best.

What are some of those thoughts that go through your mind as you’re taking the field?

When I’m taking the field at home, a lot of it is just like, go out there and win today. I love winning. I want to win. That’s all I care about.

How do you manage expectations and pressure as you progress through your career?

The biggest expectations and pressures come from the outside world. The ones that actually matter are just me, myself, and I. Not in a selfish way, but what matters is my opinion, process and staying within myself. I really focus on what I want to accomplish, not what everyone else wants me to accomplish.

Like I said, I just want to win, so I want to do whatever to be the best player that I can be to contribute. When you get away from that, that’s when that pressure starts to mount. When you just focus on what you do, and stop caring what everyone else thinks, that’s when you can really start to thrive.

 

 

Whether it was at the amateur, collegiate or professional level, what’s the best advice you ever got?

That’s tough. The first one that comes to mind is control what you can control. The stuff you can’t control is out of your control, so just focus on what you do best.

Do you remember any sort of coach or mentor at any level who’s meant a lot to you, or who’s been really significant and helped your development?

My dad and my mom are both incredible athletes and sports people, so they’ve been a huge influence on my whole life. Their love and kindness and how they pushed me means so much to me. And then my college coach molded me even more to become who I am now. He’s been a huge influence on me as far as being a better person and better player and learning how to get the most out of myself on a consistent basis.

How do you bounce back from a short-term setback?

You just have to learn how to attack fear. Fear always holds us back and prevents us from being the best that we can be. I’m always pretty fearless, but the people that are the most fearless are the ones that attack life when things go wrong.

 

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