It is just about eight miles from St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes in Alexandria to Nationals Park in southeast Washington.
But it took Major League pitcher Michael Schwimer about seven years to make the trip as a player. "It was crazy—it was a dream come true," Schwimer said, describing his Major League debut last year at Nationals Park.
And now he is back for more as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, who began a three-game series Friday night at Nationals Park. The teams also play Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening.
Standing in front of his locker before Friday's game in Washington, the Fairfax native said he planned to leave about 12 tickets for family and friends for the Friday game and about 15 for the Saturday game.
He grew up near Franconia Road in Fairfax County and his parents, Dan and Cindy, still live in the same house. He used to attend Nationals' games at RFK Stadium in Washington when he was a student at the University of Virginia.
Schwimer, 26, graduated from the Alexandria private school in 2004 and then played four years of baseball at UVA. Scouts tried to get him to turn pro after his junior year of college but the 6-foot-8-inch pitcher declined. "It was very important to me to graduate," he said. "I basically told them I was going to get my degree and go back to school."
Schwimer added that he wanted to have his degree in hand in case baseball did not work out.
He was drafted in the 14th round by the Phillies in 2008 and worked his way up through the minor league system before he made his Major League debut at Nationals Park on Aug. 21, 2011. "It was surreal," said Schwimer, who left 26 tickets for his debut and had about 50 more family and friends who had to buy their own tickets.
Schwimer, a right-handed reliever, allowed three runs in his first three games this season with the Phillies, covering three innings. In a wild game on Wednesday in Atlanta, he allowed one run while getting two outs as the Phillies lost to the Braves. Chipper Jones hit a walk-off homer against Brian Sanches in the bottom of the 11th for a 15-13 victory.
The Virginia native had an earned run average (ERA) of just 1.04 in seven games with Lehigh Valley this season before he was called up to the Phillies when pitcher Michael Stutes went on the disabled list.
Erik Kratz, 31, a backup catcher for the Phillies, has caught Schwimer at Triple A Lehigh Valley of the International League. Kratz was called up to the majors earlier this week.
"He throws a fastball, slider and change up and he has confidence in all of them," said Kratz, who played at Division III Eastern Mennonite in Harrisonburg, Va. "He hides the ball well" from opposing hitters, he said.
Veteran outfielder Hunter Pence of the Phillies said before Friday's game that Schwimer is a nice addition to the bullpen. "He has good stuff and he gets guys out for us. He has a load of talent," Pence said. "It is good to have young arms like that."
Born in Fairfax in 1986, Schwimer graduated from Virginia with a degree in sociology and statistics. He had a school record 14 saves for the Cavaliers in 2008. He began this year as the No. 30 prospect in the Philadelphia system, according to Baseball America.
The Phillies have several other connections to the mid-Atlantic region. Manager Charlie Manuel grew up in Buena Vista, Va.
Others ties to the region include coach and Maryland native Sam Perlozzo, who played at George Washington University and is a former manager for the Orioles; bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer, who is from Hagerstown, Md., and is a former minor leaguer with the Orioles; and coach Pete Mackanin, the former manager of the Class AA Bowie (MD) Baysox of the Eastern League.
Schwimer played in the Eastern League in 2009 and 2010 with Reading, Pa. Who knows? He may face rookie phenom Bryce Harper of the Nats in a key situation late in a game this weekend. Harper played in the Eastern League last year with Harrisburg, Pa.
"There is a lot to learn the first time you come up to the majors," he said. "I am an aggressive pitcher. I am here to help the team win."
That may not be good news for Nationals' fans. But for many of the Philadelphia fans in town this weekend, that is music to their ears.
Schwimer was the losing pitcher on Friday night as the Nats won 4-3 in 11 innings. He gave up a hit to Wilson Ramos with two outs in the 11th as Steve Lombardozzi scored the winning run for Nats.