By Stevie Mack
When Oregon State meets Indiana in a winner-take-all College World Series Game on Wednesday, there will be one legendary fan in the stands who has made an invaluable contribution to Beaver baseball. Hall of Fame coach Phil Swimley will be there to cheer on his grandson, Danny Hayes, Oregon State’s hard-slugging first baseman.
While most of the fans in the stands won’t recognize the unassuming Swimley, they should. Swimley won 902 games as the head coach at UC Davis, and in 2006, he was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. During his 36 years at UCD, Swimley led the Aggies to eight conference championships, six trips to the NCAA West Regional, and one trip — in 1995 — to the College World Series.
But, probably more important to the fans at Oregon State, Swimley was instrumental in developing two of OSU’s best players. Besides Hayes — who is a senior and was recently drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 13th round — Swimley tutored former Beaver catcher Andrew Susac, a 2011 second-round pick by the San Francisco Giants. Susac, who hit .313 in 37 starts his last year at Oregon State, signed with the Giants for $1.1 million. Though Susac is now a rising star who is playing this season in AA Richmond, Swimley’s influence started years earlier.
Hayes, who has started more than 150 games in his Beaver career, and Susac both prepped at Jesuit High School in Sacramento and were inseparable growing up. They played high school ball together, traveled together for summer ball — playing for Hayes’ father, Dan, himself a former Aggie — and, whenever possible, they trained with Hayes’ legendary grandfather.
It wasn’t unusual to see Swimley hanging out at a Jesuit practice working with the players. Soon, Swimley was a volunteer coach at Jesuit. Once a coach, always a coach.
This season, the 6-foot-4 Hayes was healthy most of the year, the first time he has been able to say that in his career. He has rewarded Oregon State with 56 starts while hitting .269. He has 56 hits, six home runs and 41 RBIs.
Hayes went 2-for-5 with a double and three RBIs as the Beavers defeated Texas A&M, 6-1, in the NCAA Regional final on June 3. He also blasted a two-run homer to help OSU get past Kansas State, 4-3, in the Super Regional final June 12.
“He’s really been hitting the ball well the last month,” Swimley said. “Oregon State does a nice job of getting the most out of their players.”
It’s safe to say Swimley knows a thing or two about coaches, great players and great teams. He was named to the University of Washington’s All-Century team and he spent four years in the New York Yankees organization.
But, it was in coaching where Swimley had his greatest success. While his Aggie career sent him to the Hall of Fame, it is Swimley’s eye for talent that sets him apart from others.
After he retired from UCD, Swimley coached two seasons of college summer ball, managing the Solano Thunderbirds. While in Vacaville, he had an outfielder from UCLA, Josh Roenicke. Swimley admired Roenicke’s arm strength, so, one day, he decided to put him on the mound for a few innings. The rest is history. Roenicke is a middle relief pitcher for the Minnesota Twins.
Once a coach, always a coach.
“He was a heck of an athlete,” Swimley added.
The first time Swimley saw Susac, Andrew was a high school freshman. Swimley was taking his lawn chair down the left field line to watch the game when Susac threw a runner out at second base. The play stopped Swimley in his tracks:
“When I saw that kid throw, I asked ‘Who in the heck is that guy?’ ”
That guy was the same player who, two years later as a 16-year-old playing against top college players, threw out one of the fastest college players in the country — from his knees.
“I remember that play,” Swimley said. “Leon Lee, the father of Major League star Derrick Lee, was coaching that team. He said it was as good a throw as he had ever seen.”
That same year, Hayes and Susac went on a recruiting trip to Corvallis, Ore. Swimley encouraged the two players to look around and to check out their options. But before the trip was over, Hayes and Susac were sold.
“I wanted them to look around some,” Swimley added. “But Pat Casey and his staff did a great job with the kids. They were sold on Oregon State from the start.”
Swimley has been seen all over the country at OSU games. Whether it is Riverside, Phoenix or Corvallis, you will see his family in the stands. Swimley, his wife Marilyn, daughter Jeanne and son-in-law Dan rarely miss a game.
“I have really enjoyed the experience. Oregon State has great college baseball fans,” Swimley said. “It’s inspiring to me as a college coach to see fans like this. They travel well with the team; show phenomenal support for the guys. The way they treat their players is amazing. It’s been great for Danny.”
Oregon State faces Indiana at 5 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN.
— The original version of this article was published on www.pac12sportswatch.com