You’d never guess it from the way Steven Kwan stands at home plate now with such aplomb and confidence, delivering blow after blow after blow, but not too long ago the Guardians rookie phenom was getting so nervous at bat that he couldn’t concentrate. properly.
Kwan, during an interview in his locker inside the Guardians clubhouse on May 7 before the first game of a doubles with the Blue Jays at Progressive Field, said his issues surfaced when he was a freshman at Oregon State in 2016. He hit . 215 out of 35 games. He knew it was better than that.
“I had a lot of anxiety in the batting box,” Kwan said. “I would have a fast heartbeat. I would find it hard to breathe.
“I went to see one of my college coaches about it. He also played in the big leagues. We kind of broke up and started working on meditation together. We also did it as a team. I’ve been doing it ever since. »
Kwan was referring to Tyler Graham. Graham played nine years in professional baseball, but his major league career lasted just 10 games with the Diamondbacks in 2012. He hit two no-hitters, though he scored one run. He was put out on his only stolen base attempt.
Graham, an outfielder, played his college ball at Oregon State. He was selected by the Giants in the 19th round of the 2006 draft. He returned to his alma mater as an undergraduate assistant with the Beavers baseball team in 2016 and 2017, when he met Kwan .
Whatever door Graham opened in Kwan’s mind, he must have found the right key, as Kwan hit .331 with the Beavers in 2017 and .365 the following year before the then Indians selected him. in the fifth round of the 2018 draft.
Because COVID forced the cancellation of all minor league baseball in 2020, Kwan essentially only played two minor league seasons before breaking training camp in April as the Guardians’ starting right fielder. He had a .328 batting average in Game 1 of the doubleheader with the Blue Jays on May 7.
Kwan was named the American League Rookie of the Month for April when he hit .354 in 15 games. His single through the right side in the bottom of the 10th inning on May 4, with runners on first and second and no one out, led to the winning run in a 6-5 win over the Padres. A night later, he hit his first major league home run when the Guardians beat Toronto, 6-5.
The home run was a big moment early in Kwan’s career, but the game-winning hit was more important, not only because it won the game, but also because it showed manager Terry Francona trusted Kwan enough to make him walk away rather than land a sacrificial bunt.
“He looked down and asked Sarby (third baseman coach Mike Sarbaugh) to repeat the signs,” Francona said. “He runs quite well where they shouldn’t be able to overtake him. They were playing for the bunt, so the idea is maybe he can slap one by someone.
that is exactly what happened. Kwan didn’t try to break down the outfield wall with a line drive. His ground ball passed Padres second baseman CJ Adams. Owen Miller scored for the Guardians. Game over.
It was the Guardians’ first outing this season and, therefore, the first of Kwan’s career. Kwan was mobbed by his teammates. The obligatory bottled water shower was part of the fun.
“We are a very young team, so a lot of guys have come with me,” Kwan said on May 7. “But also the older guys took me under their wing, which I’m grateful for.
“You look around, we have some really good hitters. We play for each other. We are a very tight-knit community. I think these three factors can add up to a good amount of wins.
Kwan didn’t have to think about that last statement.