Playing for hometown club becomes hot trend

Swisher, Bay among those to return to team near where they grew up

Playing for hometown club becomes hot trend

Who says you can't go home?

Nick Swisher did. Same goes for Jason Bay, Denard Span, C.J. Wilson and Lance Berkman. It even extends to the managerial ranks in Houston, where Bo Porter now guides his hometown Astros.

There comes a time in a baseball veteran's career when he is eligible for free agency and has greater control over where he plays. Since it comes in the latter stages of a player's career, there are often additional factors at play -- wives, children and being close to relatives, for example. That, some veterans say, is when they go home.

"I think that most guys don't want to necessarily geographically pigeon-hole themselves to one spot, especially early in their career," said Bay, who signed this year with the Mariners, the Major League club closest to his hometown of Trail, British Columbia. "But I think you get to a point and you see a lot of guys that get on the back side of their career, and they tend to go home. I kind of fit that mold."

Most of Bay's family still lives in Trail -- "It's a good little town, and I don't think they're going away," he said -- and he played college ball at nearby Gonzaga. Bay was drafted by the Expos in 2000, and he has played in five other organizations since, but he had never had the luxury of being so close to home.

"When you get into the league, you don't have kids or anything," Bay said. "But as you get older, you have kids and families, and other issues that arise. There's a lot that goes on in this game, and any little thing you can do to be a little more comfortable definitely helps. Being able to stay at home near family definitely helps you."

Some players have had the luxury since the beginning of their careers. Joe Mauer (St. Paul, Minn.), Neil Walker (Pittsburgh) and Mark Trumbo (Villa Park, Calif.) are among the Major Leaguers who had the good fortune of being drafted by their hometown teams.

Others have found themselves closer to home by way of trade or waivers. The Padres' Carlos Quentin (Bellflower, Calif.) and Dodgers' Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto (both from San Diego) are among the Californians with such good fortune.

Tampa, Fla., native Matt Joyce, Braves starter Tim Hudson (Columbus, Ga.) and Cubs reliever Michael Bowden (Winfield, Ill.) were also dealt back close to home. Mets outfielder Mike Baxter went to Archbishop Molloy High School, about five miles from Citi Field in Queens. He played college ball at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn., was drafted by San Diego and wound up back in Queens six years later by way of the waiver wire.

"It's just a unique opportunity in baseball," Baxter said. "It just doesn't present itself very often in anybody's career, because there are only 30 markets to begin with. So when one of them is your hometown and you have a chance to reconnect with people you haven't seen in a while and give them a chance to watch you play in your backyard, that's a great experience."

Of course, there are some who experience no such luxury. Mariners reliever Charlie Furbush grew up on the coast of Maine, in South Portland. He now plays in Seattle, nearly 3,200 miles west.

"The one thing I got to realize after seeing so many people from all over the country and all over the world is we've all got one thing in common, and it's that we all love to play baseball," Furbush said. "So I don't really think it matters too much where you come from, as long as you like playing."

Still, difficulties arise and family visits are fewer and farther between. Furbush's father is recently retired, so he'll be able to travel more to see his son play. But the Major League park closest to South Portland is Fenway Park, about 110 miles away. In the American League his entire career, Furbush has pitched there just once.

"The only tough thing for me is really just a tough thing for my parents, trying to stay up so late and watch the games," Furbush said.

While in the Tigers organization in 2010, Furbush was called up from Class A Lakeland to Double-A Erie of the Eastern League. Portland's Minor League club, the Double-A affiliate of the Red Sox, is in the same league. Furbush missed Erie's trip to Portland's Hadlock Field by nine days.

"I just remember thinking, 'Oh man, if only I'd been called up a week before,'" Furbush said. "But that was all just part of the journey getting there.

"I still live there, and it's always nice to get back there and just see everybody, see the personnel. I played there in high school, so it's one of those things where it's the biggest park in Maine and it's always cool to get back to se it."

So when players in Swisher's position can get closer to home -- Swisher was born in Columbus, Ohio, spent his high school days in West Virginia, then returned to the Buckeye State to play baseball at Ohio State -- they often do it.

"Anyone who has seen the O-H-I-O in right field when he was in town as an opposing player will certainly appreciate that more in the home-team uniform," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said when Swisher was introduced in Cleveland this winter.

"It was just such a magical time for my wife and I, and my family as well," said Swisher. "To be at this point in your career, to be able to enjoy all this. The one thing that [wife Joanna Garcia] and I talked about was we wanted to go somewhere we were gonna be wanted and we were gonna be loved. … With where my roots are and where I started, to come back and be playing for my supposed 'home team,' I couldn't be more honored."

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak.‬ This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.