Bill Swift had a pretty good thing as a high school baseball coach in Phoenix. His team was a perennial playoff contender and played in a beautiful facility. But the last couple of years, Swift began wondering what life would be like at the next level.
He’s about to find out.
Swift, the former South Portland High and University of Maine pitcher, was named the baseball coach at Arizona Christian University on Tuesday. Arizona Christian is an NAIA school that also competes in the National Christian College Athletic Association.
“God gives you these talents to play the game and there’s no reason not to give them back,” said Swift. “The college thing has been on my mind the last few years. This opportunity opened and I’m just grateful that they gave me a chance.”
Arizona Christian is a relatively new program — entering its fourth season next year — but has already had success. Two years ago the Firestorm were in the NAIA national tournament. Last year they won the Golden State Athletics Conference tournament and advanced to the NCCAA Division I World Series in Ohio. The program has had five players drafted by Major League Baseball the last two years.
“That just shows if you’re a good ballplayer, no matter where you play, someone’s going to find you,” said Swift. “I like to think I still have enough connections with scouts and guys at the major league level to get the guys to the next level.”
Swift, 51, remains one of UMaine’s greatest players, his No. 8 jersey retired by the university. He pitched in four consecutive College World Series and was a two-time All-American. He also pitched on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team that won a silver medal.
He played 13 seasons in the major leagues, achieving a 94-78 record with a 3.95 earned-run average and 27 saves. His best years came for the San Francisco Giants, when he led the National League in ERA (2.08) in 1992, then was second in the Cy Young voting in 1993 (21-8, 2.82 ERA).
Swift has been the baseball coach at Scottsdale Christian Academy since 2001. During that time he took a program that had only 11 players when he started and made it one of the best in the state. The school won two state championships and made 10 playoff appearances under Swift.
His success there, and his strong Christian beliefs, impressed Arizona Christian officials. “He has the combination of baseball knowledge and steady, mature Christian leadership we desire for the student-athletes in our baseball program,” said the school president, Len Munsil, in a statement.
“It’s going to be challenging,” said Swift. “I think it’s about attracting kids to come here to get a Christian education and getting them a chance to get drafted, those who want to play at the major league level.”
Swift said the foundation for his coaching philosophy came from John Winkin, his coach at Maine. While he mentioned Dusty Baker and Don Baylor — two of his major league managers — he said, “Winkin is the foundation, he really is, of what I teach and the program I run.”
He said Winkin’s insistence on teaching fundamentals is at the heart of any success, no matter the level.
He started thinking about coaching at the college level a couple of years ago as his three daughters got older: Aubrey, 22, recently graduated from Chapman University in California; Mackenzie, 21, is a student at the University of San Diego; and Brynlie, 15, is a student at Scottsdale Christian Academy.
His new job isn’t very far from his former one. “Family time is very important to me,” he said.
Which is why, he said, that while his job might be to prepare his best players for the professional level, he’s not interested in making that trip himself.
“I’ve been approached a couple of times by (Baker),” he said. “It’s a grind. I’ve talked to guys who coach in the minor leagues. They don’t make a lot of money and it’s a long day and you’re away from your family. At this point I have no desire for that again. I think this is a good fit for me.”
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at firstname.lastname@example.org