As a baseball standout at The Citadel and a solid prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals' farm system, Chris Swauger has faced down his share of hot-shot pitchers.
But the 25-year-old outfielder nearly whiffed when confronted by this recent fastball from a third-grader in his classroom:
"Why should I listen to you? You're just a substitute teacher."
Said Swauger, "You are always going to have kids who want to challenge authority, and others who do what you say and think you are cool. It's all part of the job."
Swauger, who was a 26th-round draft choice out of The Citadel in 2008, has worked as a substitute teacher in his hometown of Tampa, Fla., each offseason of his four years in the minor leagues. That's just one in a range of offseason jobs taken by Lowcountry minor leaguers, from hedge fund analyst to baseball school instructor and shoe store manager.
Swauger teaches at Trinity School for Children, a private school for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade, subbing two or three times a week for regular teachers.
There, Swauger is known to the kids as "Mr. Chris, the baseball player."
"When you are a sub, you don't get to interact with the same kids every day," said Swauger, who graduated from The Citadel with a degree in business administration. "But if you can have an impact on one kid for one day, it's a sense of accomplishment.
"When they come in the door and they are not that excited to be there, administration. "But if you can have an impact on one kid for one day, it's a sense of accomplishment.
"When they come in the door and they are not that excited to be there, and by the end of the day they are excited about what they are doing and asking if you will be back the next day, that's rewarding."
Swauger, who was the sixth-leading hitter in the Class AA Texas League last year with a .296 batting average, began substitute teaching four years ago as a way to earn money in the offseason while working around his training schedule and playing winter ball in Latin America.
Minor league baseball players typically earn from $850 a month in Class A short season, to a minimum of $2,150 per month in Class AAA.
Class AA players such as Swauger earn about $1,500 a month over a six-month season, a total of about $9,000. That does not include the bonuses players receive when they were drafted, which can range into the millions for first-round picks.
But as the 785th player taken in the 2008 draft, Swauger did not command a huge bonus.
"You don't get paid in the offseason, and that leads to some odd jobs," he said. "I worked at Dick's Sporting Goods last year -- they give really good discounts. My first year, I had a paid internship at the University of Tampa, which was great."
Offseason jobs run the gamut for minor-league players. Matt Leeds, a former College of Charleston third baseman drafted by the Rangers, is working as an analyst for a Wall Street hedge fund. His ex-teammate, catcher Rob Kral, was taken by the Padres and is an instructor at a local baseball academy. Former Charleston Southern pitcher Ali Williams, drafted by the Royals, is manager at a local Foot Action shoe store.
Of course, Major League Baseball is the goal for all of them, and Swauger says he's right on track with a career batting average of .286 and 39 home runs and 201 RBIs in four full seasons. The average age of a player making his MLB debut is 26.
"I've always said I want to progress through one level each year, and I've gone from short-season to low Class A to high A and AA," said Swauger, who also writes a blog for mlbreports.com. "I feel like I'm right where I should be, and I hope and think that I should get a shot at Class AAA this year.
"I think the Cardinals do have a plan for me, and all the feedback I get from them is positive. The only thing I can control is my performance on the field. When the opportunity presents itself, I have to be performing to take advantage of it."
And maybe then he can show those doubting third-graders.
"I'm a minor-leaguer, so I'm still a nobody," Swauger said. "Some of the kids will say, 'If you are a baseball player, why aren't you on TV?' I tell them, maybe I will be someday."
Jobs local minor league baseball players work in the off-season:
Pos. Player School Org. Job
OF Chris Swauger The Citadel Cardinals Substitute teacher
INF Matt Leeds College of Charleston Rangers Hedge fund analyst
C Rob Kral College of Charleston Reds Baseball instructor
P Ali Williams Charleston Southern Royals Shoe store manager
Follow Jeff Hartsell on Twitter @jeff_fromthepc
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