Cubs star Dansby Swanson’s influence still felt on Braves — and vice versa

Swanson faced his former team for the first time Friday, with the Cubs falling to the Braves 8-0.

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Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson caught up with former Braves teammates and coaches before the game Friday. File photo.

Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson caught up with former Braves teammates and coaches before the game Friday. File photo.

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Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson stood next to Braves third-base coach Ron Washington in a circle of his former teammates Friday, chatting outside the visitors’ dugout at Wrigley Field.

‘‘It was awesome,’’ Washington, the Braves’ infield guru, said in a conversation with the Sun-Times. ‘‘Same old guy, jovial, always got a smile on his face, always ready to compete. That’s Dansby.’’

As the red-hot Cubs play the Braves this weekend, Swanson is facing his former team for the first time since signing a seven-year, $177 million contract with the Cubs during the offseason.

Friend Max Fried returned from the 60-day injured list to start the Braves’ 8-0 victory Friday. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud celebrated the milestone of 10 years of major-league service time and texted Swanson ahead of time — ‘‘He made sure he let me know’’ — and Swanson caught up with guys he had played with for years.

‘‘He stabilized [shortstop] for us,’’ Braves manager Brian Snitker said, ‘‘and the leadership that he had and the consistency and everything that he brought was huge. He did a lot of really good things for our organization, was an integral part of us winning a world championship [in 2021].’’

After seven years in the Braves’ organization, Swanson’s impact lives on through the guys he played with. Third baseman Austin Riley said he learned a lot taking the field next to ‘‘a true winner.’’

‘‘His selflessness,’’ Riley said. ‘‘It doesn’t matter what kind of day he has. I remember the times playing with him, it’s just like: ‘How can we get better? How can we be a better club? How can we be better teammates, be a better version of ourselves?’ I think that’s the biggest thing that I’ve taken from him.’’

Swanson has imparted that mentality to the Cubs. He’s also hitting .263 with 16 home runs and trending upward. But it’s his defensive prowess that sets him apart from his peers. He’s arguably the best defensive shortstop in the majors, and though the Cubs have been on an offensive tear recently, their team is built on pitching and defense.

Washington’s introduction to Swanson’s defense came before the veteran coach landed with the Braves. When Washington was on the Athletics’ coaching staff, he said the team asked him to look over some of Swanson’s college film at Vanderbilt.

‘‘The first thing I saw, I said, ‘Man, this kid can play,’ ’’ Washington said. ‘‘You can see skill, but you can also see the intelligence of play. And I said, ‘This kid knows what he’s doing.’ ’’

Swanson’s awareness and ability to adapt in the middle of a play stood out. Washington saw qualities that were rare for players Swanson’s of age.

Then in 2017, the year after Swanson’s big-league debut, Washington joined the Braves.

‘‘The biggest thing that he instilled in me was a really good routine,’’ Swanson told the Sun-Times, ‘‘and understanding how if you want to be really good at something, especially at this level, you’ve got to work on the fundamentals each and every day. Not that I’ve ever not understood that, but he set such a culture and precedent around the expectation of: ‘No, this is what we do. We do this every day.’ ’’

Washington is known for his system of daily infield drills — which progress from small glove to flat ‘‘donut’’ glove to regular glove — designed to make sound fielding second nature. At first, Washington said, Swanson was concerned that the high rep count would leave him tired before the game.

‘‘Then he began to realize that the things that we were doing were really working his mind,’’ Washington said. ‘‘And he loved the fact that he was working his mind because that’s who Dansby is. He’s always trying to be ahead of things. And then toward the middle of ‘17 he bought in, and the rest is history.’’

Between the routine and Washington’s positivity, Swanson felt a difference in his own confidence in the field.

He has tweaked Washington’s program slightly, personalizing it. And he brought it to the Cubs this season. They have a ‘‘donut’’ glove, and infielders line up to run through a version of the routine.

‘‘When somebody learns something from you and use it, it’s theirs,’’ Washington said.

He’s not just saying that. When Washington was a coach on Snitker’s National League All-Star staff last season, he ran through infield drills with anyone who asked, no matter which team they represented.

‘‘We gave him a really hard time about it,’’ Swanson said with a smile. ‘‘But that’s just how he is. He just loves the game and wants to help anybody he can. He’s all about his work, that’s for sure.’’

Swanson was making his first All-Star appearance that year. And it ended up being his last with the Braves.

‘‘We miss him,’’ Washington said. ‘‘But the game moves on.’’

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