$177M man the new face of Cubs franchise: ‘Things happen for a reason’

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MESA, Ariz. – Dansby Swanson, born and raised in Georgia, grew up watching his favorite players become legends, but somewhere along the way, money mudded the waters, and precious few finished their careers in Atlanta. 

It didn’t matter whether it was Hank Aaron or Tom Glavine or Andruw Jones or John Smoltz, none finished their careers in the organization. 

He was an eyewitness to Freddie Freeman’s painful departure a year ago when he became a free agent, and wound up with the Los Angeles Dodgers, sobbing as he talked about the breakup last summer. 

Now, here was Swanson’s turn at free agency. He was the hometown kid. The most popular among the fans. Their clubhouse leader. The ironman who missed only two games in three years. The player who earned his first All-Star berth, won his first Gold Glove, hit 25 homers and drove in 96 runs in 2022. And led Atlanta to its fifth consecutive division title.

Still, after everything he observed, he had to brace himself for the possibility that Atlanta could let him go, too, right, unwilling to bridge a gap in negotiations? 

“Well, yes, and no,’’ Swanson tells USA TODAY Sports. “I mean, I feel like ego gets in the way. They wouldn’t let me go, right? I’m a homegrown kid. I’ve kind of been leading this team for a while. I’m the center, glue of the team, like if there was ever anything going on, people would come to me.’’ 

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But, just as Atlanta did with Freeman, made an offer to retain Swanson, but never budged, sticking to their six-year, $100 million proposal even when his peers in the free-agent class were getting massive deals. 

Considering shortstops Trea Turner signed for $300 million, Xander Bogaerts $280 million, Carlos Correa originally signing for $350 million before getting $200 million from Minnesota, he certainly deserved to be in their same financial neighborhood. 

“But at the end of the day, it is a business right?’’ Swanson says. “Things happen for a reason. I didn’t want to leave. I loved Atlanta. I still do. We accomplished a lot there, but I was pushing for even more. 

‘It’s just that I want to win so bad. I hate losing. Like I literally think we should win everything. I’m not saying we should go 162-0, but I’d like to. 

“So I wasn’t sure Chicago was the right place.’’ 

The Cubs ended their 108-year drought winning the 2016 World Series championship, but it has been five years since they won a postseason game. They have finished a combined 43 games out of first place the last two seasons. 

Swanson, in comparison, has been in the playoffs every year since 2017, winning the World Series championship in 2021, and 101 games last season.

The Cubs sat down with Swanson over the winter, talked about where the organization is headed, and let him know that they wanted him to be the centerpiece of their renaissance. 

The resistance slowly melted. 

“It became clearer and clearer of where I was supposed to be,’’ Swanson says. “Everything just fell in line. This is just such an amazing organization to represent. It’s a historic place, man. 

“This team means so much to so many people, which is very similar from the place I just came from. From the gist I’ve gotten so far, pro sports in Chicago are a massive deal. Pro sports in Atlanta are like, well, kind of a deal. 

“It’s not a knock against anything about Atlanta, trust me. I’m a huge Falcons’ fan and big Hawks’ fan, but it’s just different. Cubs fans, Cubs everything, is just a little bit different.’’ 

Besides, there was another compelling reason to go Chicago. 

His wife, Mallory (formerly Mallory Pugh), whom he married in December, is a star forward of the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League where she has played the past two seasons. 

They will keep their home in Atlanta, where they still have family, but now will start house- hunting for another in Chicago where Swanson could be through 2029 with his new seven-year, $177 million contract. 

Mallory Swanson, 24, the youngest U.S. women soccer player to score a goal in the 2016 Olympics, and will play on the U.S. World Cup team this summer, just may continue her career in Chicago, too. League officials told her they would make every attempt to keep the two of them in the same city. 

Even if Swanson had signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, they informed Mallory they would have made sure she’s traded her to Los Angeles, too. 

“This is technically her last season in Chicago,’’ Swanson says., “but they pretty much made a  promise that they would do right by her. Say I had signed with the Dodgers, they would have traded her to a team that’s in Los Angeles. They were very open to that. And since I’m in Chicago now, I think they’re going to be Ok keeping her around.’’ 

Still, they just weren’t convinced that Chicago was the right place, and spent a lot of time praying for guidance. 

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“It’s funny like before Chicago, we were both kind of like I don’t know,’’ he said. “She said, ‘I don’t know if I want to there.’ I said, ‘I don’t know if I want to be there.’ But the more we prayed about it was like, ‘Chicago is where we’re supposed to be.’ Looking back, things just started falling to place than makes a lot of sense now.’’ 

Certainly, Swanson’s arrival boosts soccer’s popularity in the clubhouse, with the players knowing that Mallory has scored goals in six consecutive games, including game-winners in the last two. 

“It’s been so fun to watch, being able to love and support her through her journey,’’ Swanson says. “It’s pretty freakin’ cool. It’s so cool to see her transformation because she’s come a long ways. 

Swanson, 29, has grown to love the sport, learning the nuances, the teamwork involved, the strategy on plays. They dissect each game together, and even share the same trainer in the off-season. 

“She’s having fun and with all of her natural ability, you get to that point where you learn how to be a professional,’’ Swanson says. “It’s a fun thing to see how much these girls do, and what they go through, it’s pretty amazing.’’ 

It was soccer that brought them together in the first place. Swanson, who attended Vanderbilt, was friends with Cheyna Williams, who played on Vandy’s soccer team, and later played on the Washington Spirit soccer team with Mallory. Well, one day Cheyna came to one of Swanson’s games, brought along Mallory, and they met for the first time in 2017. 

The off-season comes around, and Mallory’s sister, Brianna, got married, who happened to be second baseman Jace Peterson, Swanson’s teammate in Atlanta. They reconnected at the wedding, Swanson visited Mallory in Colorado before spring training in 2018, and the two have been together ever since. They married Dec. 10 in Greensboro, Georgia, and spent their honeymoon figuring out where Swanson was going to spend the rest of his career. 

“She came with me to a couple of meetings with teams,’’ Swanson says, “that was before the wedding. They kept calling, but it was wedding weekend. I was like, ‘Hey, I know this is in the middle of the winter meetings, but sorry, we have to focus on the wedding.’’’ 

They went off to their honeymoon, and in between catching rays and waves on the beach, tried to decide just where they wanted to be. 

“We don’t always understand why things happen, but things happen for a reason,’’ Swanson says, ‘and we just felt like this is where our home for the next seven years is supposed to be.’’ 

Now, here they are, Chicago’s power couple, with Mallory playing in the World Cup this summer and Swanson trying to get the Cubs back into the postseason, with the two vowing never to look back. 

Swanson sat down with Freeman and Jason Heyward, his two close friends and former teammates in Atlanta, who provided to ease the transition . 

“They basically just told me to keep an open mind,’’ Swanson said, “and just embrace being around your new teammates, really invest in the people that you’re with. The beautiful part here is just with my personality, it’s very easy to get invested into the group of guys that we have.’’ 

Cubs manager David Ross has seen the leadership skills surface since he walked through the clubhouse doors, watching him slowly ingratiate himself with his new teammates, and really being everything the Cubs could have imagined. 

“You definitely see those leadership skills, that winning mentality,’’ Ross says. “All he talks about is what it takes to win. He’s very committed and having conversations getting comfortable with how we do things here. He’s so tough mentally. 

“And besides, now we’re getting to know about soccer. We’re all talking about it more. You know she has winning goals in the last two games? She’s another winner who is now part of our Cubs’ family. 

“It’s going to a fun summer in Chicago.’’ 

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale 

This post appeared first on USA TODAY