The three-hour round trip from Sparta, Ohio is worth it for Jett Swetland.
The Champion City Kings first baseman is back with the wooden bat summer collegiate baseball team for his third season in four years. He spends his mornings working on his family’s farm and makes the daily trek to Springfield in the afternoon to spend his nights on the diamond.
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“My goal is to hopefully play pro ball and if not go play independent ball,” Swetland said. “I got off to kind of a slow start (this season), but I’ve picked it up. If I can keep the dream going, I’m going to keep the dream going, but if not, I’ll go back and work on the farm.”
Swetland is hitting .240 for the Kings this season with a team-high 10 RBIs through Friday’s 7-2 victory over the Normal (Ill.) Cornbelters.
He spent the 2016 and 2017 summer seasons with the Kings, hitting nine home runs with 54 RBIs in 248 at-bats as one of the team’s clean-up hitters.
Last summer, he played in Springfield, Mo. with Ozarks Generals Baseball Club of the MINK League. He finished the season tied for the league lead in home runs with nine and ranked in the top-5 in RBIs (42) and batting average (.326).
“It was fun,” Swetland said. “It was super hot compared to here. I wasn’t really expecting that. It was a little bit similar to Florida, but it was way worse. It was a really good league. I had a great experience. I really enjoyed it.”
After his senior season at Division II Mount Olive University in North Carolina, Swetland decided to return to the Champion City organization this summer. He needed to be home to help out at his family’s farm in Sparta, Ohio, which located in Morrow County, about an hour-and-a-half from the ballpark, he said. He’s also close with Kings assistant Mark Lucas and wanted to spend his last season working with him.
“I’m super close with Mark,” Swetland said. “I really enjoy him a lot, he helps me out with a lot of things. I think it’s a good atmosphere here and he was one of the reasons I wanted to come back. I knew he was going to put a good team together, especially with (coaches John Jeanes and Gavin Murphy. (General Manager Ginger Fulton) is doing a really good job.”
The Kings are 8-5 this season, good enough for second place in the Prospect League’s East Division.
“We’ve had a few bumps in the road, but that’s going to happen in a long season,” Swetland said. “I think we’ll bounce back today and see what happens.”
Swetland has been through plenty of battles over the last three years and has brought a nice veteran presence to the squad, Jeanes said.
“He’s a guy that’s going to play loose, relaxed and has been around the game a lot,” he said. “He’s been a blessing.”
He’s also leading the club in a different statistic — earned run average.
Last week, Swetland made his pitching debut in his third season with the club after trying to convince Jeanes to put him on the mound. Trailing 17-0 at Chillicothe, Swetland pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth innings, allowing one hit with three strikeouts.
“He had been harping me pretty good about (pitching),” Jeanes said. “The guy gets in there and is about 87-88 and punches out a couple guys. I told him, ‘It looks like you might be pitching a little bit more’.”
It’s the first time he had pitched since his days at Sparta Highland High School.
“I was just trying to throw strikes and see what happens,” he said. “I had a pretty good outcome, I was pretty happy.”
With 64 career RBIs and counting this season, Swetland will likely finish as the team’s all-time leader in RBIs.
“I’ve developed a lot as a player and as a person, especially with the coaches I’ve had,” Swetland said. “I’ve really enjoyed my time here in Springfield. I look forward to coming back and watching games and hopefully have my kids play in this league.”
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