Friendship lefty struck out disease once, faces it again
By Andy Reed
Four months after apparently beating testicular cancer, Brennan Swindoll is spending the summer of his high school graduation battling the disease again.
Friendship Christian's all-state pitcher and salutatorian underwent surgery in February and was thought to have beaten the disease.
But he was informed on the eve of last month's state baseball tournament it had returned.
"My blood count went down for a while and then it came back," Swindoll said Tuesday night. "So I had to do chemo to get it over with.
"They told me the week of the state tournament. It wasn't something I wanted on my mind so I put it in the back of my mind so I wouldn't have to think about it during the state tournament."
If cancer was a high school batter, it would have little chance against Swindoll's mid-80s fastball or sharp breaking pitches. The two-time all-stater [nominations for the 2013 team are now being taken and the team will be announced in a few weeks] went 10-2 with a save in 15 appearances covering 73 2/3 innings. He struck out 113 and walked 22 while posting a 0.48 earned-run average.
He threw two shutouts in a four-day span during the state tournament, capped by a gritty performance in a 4-0 championship win over Silverdale. Swindoll also spun four innings of a perfect game against Clay County in the Region 4-A opener and shut out Marion County in the sectional. Only Trousdale County got some scores off him, and that was because of errors which resulted in four runs, all unearned, in a 14-4 Commander conquest in the District 8-A tournament.
Swindoll can also hit despite hitting in the lower part of Friendship's batting order most of the time. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound left-hander batted .420 with three home runs and 15 RBI.
But with a scholarship to Chattanooga State locked up, Swindoll isn't playing summer ball this year while undergoing a nine-week treatment program which began last week. He will endure five-days-a-week of treatment twice more after going through it last week with one-day sessions the other weeks. He has the rest of this week off after Monday's session.
"It makes you feel pretty sick," Swindoll said. "I've felt nauseous the last couple of weeks, but it's bearable."
Once treatments are out of the way, Swindoll plans to return his focus back to pitching at Chattanooga State. He attracted attention from SEC teams early in his high school career and even some feelers from some Major League Baseball teams, but went undrafted last week. But by enrolling in junior-college, he'll be eligible for the draft every year he's in college. Had he gone to a four-year school, he wouldn't be draft-eligible again until after his junior year.
Longtime Commander coach John McNeal has always tried to steer his baseball players to the juco route.
"I think juco baseball is a good thing for kids that aren't going to go to a D-I and play early," McNeal said. "If you look at any D-I program that kids are going and aren't playing their freshman and sophomore year. By the time they become juniors, that school is recruiting a lot of juco players the same age as them who has had tons of at bats or has been throwing.
"It leaves a lot of options for you. It leaves his draft options open and also he still wants to play in the SEC."
Stephen Pryor, the ace of Friendship's 2007 state championship team, also went the juco route, via Cleveland State, before matriculating at Tennessee Tech. Along the way, the right-hander added some 10 mph to his fastball and was drafted twice, the latter by the Seattle Mariners in 2010. Before going on the disabled list two months ago, Pryor had settled into the role of Seattle's eighth-inning setup man and has not allowed a run in seven appearances this season.
"I've been thinking about that, hoping it happens to me," Swindoll said. "I want to hit 90 [mph] my freshman year in college, and then whatever speed I can pick up is a plus.
"If I can turn out like Stephen Pryor, it would be awesome."
Swindoll currently throws 85-87 mph and occasionally hits 88. Unlike some young pitchers who try to throw gas by hitters, batters are as likely to see hard breaking pitches as the straight stuff.
"I've always been that way pitching," Swindoll said. "It seems like not matter what, people can hit a fastball.
"Curveballs and changeups are what you have to look to."
That was a philosophy Swindoll brought to the Commanders when he was brought up to the high school team as a eighth-grader. His debut came in the state tournament against Decatur County-Riverside, which went to the finals that year and won the next three championships before getting knocked out by Silverdale last month.
"We know Brennan's not going to overpower them, don't need to overpower them, they like that," McNeal said. "Somebody who can throw spots and keep them off balance. He threw seven innings and had to take him out because of pitch count, and it was tied.
"They didn't have an answer for him. It started that day and it ended with the state championship."
Cancer wasn't the only bump in the road for Swindoll, who missed his sophomore season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, a common operation for pitchers, but this wasn't a common ailment for him. Swindoll hurt his elbow while making a tackle against Marion County in the playoffs the previous November. Though he never played defense again, he returned to football in time as one of three quarterbacks - the passing specialist - as Friendship went on a late-season roll to the Commanders' first state championship. But he didn't return to football for his senior season in order to focus on baseball.
"He is one of those kids who takes the things life gives him and he is a special kid," McNeal said. "He's been through a lot."
"It's something I thought the Lord blessed me enough to get rid of, but He had something else in mind," Swindoll said of the cancer which struck out in February but has come around in the batting order again. "Hopefully, the batter will strike out and never get back up to the plate again."