As the inconsistent Red Sox continue to enrage loyal fans, let’s harken back to another time, when all eyes in Dracut were fixed on Major League Baseball to see if a local kid could make the bigs.
Born in Dracut on Feb. 5, 1918, Fred Swindells Jr. was the son of Fred and Mary Swindells. He attended Dracut schools, and the family were congregants at the Old Yellow Meetinghouse in Dracut Center. Growing up, Swindells learned to play baseball, as most youngsters did, and not only did he enjoy the game, but he was really good at it.
By the time Swindells entered Dracut High School, he was making a name for himself in baseball circles. He had a good arm and was turning into a really good pitcher. He joined the Dracut High baseball team and pitched in the Lowell Twilight League, an amateur league.
During his time with Dracut, Swindells notched some very impressive numbers under coach Spencer Sullivan. In 1936, Swindells averaged 14 strikeouts per game, batted .355, and pitched two shutouts in a span of just four days. At one point in 1937, his batting average reached .465.
Coach Sullivan knew he had a very special player, and Swindells caught the eye of Cleveland Indians scout Bob Ralph. Swindells was offered a tryout at Fenway Park.
So, at 10:25 a.m., on June 19, 1937, Swindells arrived at Fenway Park accompanied by Coach Sullivan. While many spectators were filing into Fenway on that dry, rather cool morning (the high that day was only 62 degrees), Swindells changed into his Dracut High uniform. He took the mound under the watchful eye of Coach Sullivan, Ralph, Indians manager Steve O’Neil and George Uhle, the great Cleveland pitcher who Babe Ruth described as the toughest pitcher he ever faced. The great catcher Wally Schang caught Swindells.
Prospects were usually only given 10 minutes out on the mound, but Swindells got out there around 12:45 and stayed out there for 35 minutes. When he was done, Coach Sullivan said, “I am usually enthusiastic about my players and teams. But Swindells, say, this boy was a sensation down there on the Fenway rubber and my own opinion was confirmed by manager Steve O’Neil in person.”
Three weeks later, Swindells received a letter from the Indians. It read, “On the reports of manager Steve O’Neil and on recommendation of Scout Bob Ralph and Coach George Uhle of the battery division, the Cleveland Indians will have a contract in your hands within a few days. I advise you to sign same immediately and obtain signatures of your parents as well as that of a notary public and return to this office. I further advise you, upon its acceptance, to report to the Oswego, NY club of the Canadian-American League of which Rev. J.H. Martin is President.”
Swindells did sign the letter, and in April 1938 reported to the Oswego club. But not before Dracut held a large dinner in his honor, with more than 200 people joining Swindells and his parents in the high-school auditorium.
After Cleveland, he played in the Washington Senators farm system, but his baseball career was put on hold when World War II began. He joined the Air Force and was stationed in the Aleutian Islands. After the war, Swindells tried to jump-start his baseball career, but his arm had been injured during the war and was never the same.
Fred Swindells, Jr. passed away at the age of 62 on Feb. 1, 1981, just days before he would have turned 63.