It’s uncommon but not unheard of … a prep athlete occupying the same varsity position all four years.
Typically, four-year varsity players shift positions and await their turn at quarterback, shortstop or point guard once an older teammate graduates.
Not so for Chris Swineford who, from the moment he stepped onto the school’s campus to when he left, was the baseball program’s starting catcher.
Next spring, it won’t be the familiar No. 7 behind the plate. Swineford did his time — starting every game in four varsity seasons.
“It’s true that it’s more rare to see someone catch all four varsity baseball seasons because of the physically demanding nature of the position,” El Dorado coach Rusty McDonald said. “You can run a freshman out at shortstop and expect them to see 4-5-6-7 ground balls but a catcher is involved in every single play which can stretch over 100 pitches.”
McDonald first saw Swineford as a freshman but had previously heard Chris was coming his way.
“I hear a lot about the players (coming into the program) and the talent varies once they get here,” McDonald said. “But I was happy to hear about a young catcher because we just graduated one. Once we saw who we had at that position it was unanimous to the coaches that Chris was the best (we had) at the school.”
Swineford’s stability as the backstop helped elevate the El Dorado program to the cusp of winning a section title. The Cougars’ second of back-to-back visits to the championship game happened in Swineford’s freshman season.
“I’m glad I was in such a good program and it was nice winning more games than we lost,” Swineford said. “I learned more there than I would anywhere else — great coaching staff and playing with a lot of good players.”
El Dorado was poised to break through in Swineford’s sophomore season until an “unfortunate incident” derailed those plans. Last year the Cougars survived a 10-inning game with Manteca before dropping 2-of-3 to Sonora and this season fell in the first round.
“My goal was to win sections but the season turned into building the team back up to where it should be,” Swineford said.
In his four years, Swineford’s ascension and development as a quality catcher was apparent. He earned All League honors 3-of-4 years, was named the team Player of the Year as a sophomore and crowned his senior year by being selected to the Optimist All Star game.
Swineford experienced winning league titles twice: as a freshman El Dorado won the 2010 Pioneer Valley League banner and in 2012 took the Sierra Valley Conference championship.
He hit .264 his first varsity go-around, a year McDonald wanted his young catcher to focus on defense, but jumped up to .455 with two home runs and 26 RBIs as a sophomore.
“A little more was expected because he was a second-year player with a year of varsity experience under his belt,” McDonald said. “Plus, nothing was overwhelming to him.”
Last season, Swineford knocked in 29 runs — the same as this year — in batting .320 and rose to .380 with four jacks this year.
“As a junior he but put a lot of pressure on himself to carry the load — more than he needed. He did well but it was more of a grind to him. Over the summer he played Senior Legion with a lot of returning college players and that helped him his senior season develop into a fine all-around baseball player,” McDonald said.
Swineford had hoped to hook on with a four-year college but glitches in the recruiting process waylaid that plan. Instead, he’ll start his college career at Sierra College.
“I didn’t plan on going to a JC but that’s my best choice right now and then make the transfer to a 4-year,” said Swineford who, with Senior Legion disbanded, had to find a summer team. He did — playing for the Hard 90 18u team and also doing workouts at Cameron Park Crossfit.
He’s about as local as it gets. Born at Marshall Hospital and a life-long Placerville resident, Swineford felt the subtle pull to play other sports at El Dorado and played football his first two years.
“Baseball was always my focus. Football was fun but there was really nothing keeping me in it. I’ve been attracted to catching since I was a little kid and knew that’s what I wanted to do. I liked the focus and having to pay attention on every pitch.”
Coming up, Swineford also played two years for El Dorado Post 119 Junior Legion before suiting up last summer for Post 119 Senior Legion. With the Seniors, McDonald let Swineford call pitches and again this spring as he accepted a leadership role.
“I’ll personally really miss having him around and the baseball program will definitely miss his presence. He’ll do fine at Sierra,” McDonald said.
Note: The Union Mine varsity baseball team had a freshman starting catcher last spring for the first time in program history. Like Swineford, Diamondback Brendan Hunter will be a player to watch in the next three years.