If there’s a team that needs a player like Mike Sweeney, it’s the Seattle Mariners.
And if there’s a player who needs a team like the Mariners, it’s Sweeney.
Both are trying to claw themselves out of baseball’s scrap in 2008 and both begin the 2009 season full of hope, realizing there are no promises in this game.
Sweeney will be the Mariners’ designated hitter tonight against the Minnesota Twins, and who would have seen that a year ago at this time?
Like the high hopes the Mariners had for themselves in 2008, Sweeney emerged from spring training on a couple of questionable legs and made the Oakland A’s opening-day roster. He hit his 300th career double April 14, and then things started to slide.
The back and knee problems that had plagued Sweeney bit him again. He wound up on the disabled list by the end of May and, on June 11, had surgery on both knees. He came off the DL in early September but, after two games, the A’s released him at his request.
Sweeney, who had talked of retirement during the season, was as down and out as the Mariners were by the end of last year. They both went into the offseason eager to do everything possible not to repeat 2008.
For the Mariners, it meant retooling their talent base. For Sweeney, it meant working toward a no-guarantees, no-regrets attempt at extending his career one more year.
On Jan. 27, their paths crossed when the Mariners signed the 35-year-old Sweeney.
Then, he not only proved at spring training that his health is good, he became a unifying presence in the clubhouse and instilled hope that he can help the Mariners’ offense.
He goes into the season opener tonight feeling he has accomplished one mission just to make it back, but also knows it’s just the beginning.
“I came to camp with a tremendous amount of freedom because everyone kind of wrote me off,” Sweeney said. “I’d already answered the questions of my health over the wintertime when I was working hard and doing things beyond what I was doing on the baseball field.”
He answered those questions in his own mind, but he needed to prove himself to the Mariners. He did that with a can’t-lose-anything approach.
“Coming to camp was a win-win for me,” Sweeney said. “My thoughts were to come to camp, play well and make the team. And if I didn’t make the team, I’d go home and get to be with my wife and three kids.”
Sweeney gives loads of credit to God and the Bible. You’ll hear him talk about it a lot this season and, in the situation he found himself facing in the offseason, he reflected on the Parable of the Talents.
“There’s one guy who had been given one talent and he buried it,” Sweeney said. “The Lord asked him, ‘Why have you buried the talent that I gave you?’
“Well, I don’t want to be that. I don’t want to look back 20 years from now and say, ‘I wish I had just tried it.’ I came here with a sense of freedom because I wasn’t burying my talent. I was just letting it be. If it worked out, great. If it didn’t I could look in the mirror for the rest of my life and know that I gave it my all and never took a shortcut, never cheated.
“One thing that really fueled me is that I love the game of baseball. I understand that it’s something that I’ve worked extremely hard at, but also that God has given me a gift. I’m thankful that I can write another chapter in my career and hopefully it’s one that will allow me to play the game for more than a season.”
After a strong spring training, Sweeney hopes top stay healthy and push retirement back at least another year. So far, he’s had a great time with the Mariners.
He believes general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu have done wonders to bring not only new players to the organization, but a fresh attitude to the clubhouse.
“I heard rumors about how bad things were last year, but I see no semblance of that at all,” Sweeney said. “I don’t see it in the clubhouse, nor do I see it on the field.
“I think you can attribute it to some of the new guys Jack and Wak have brought in. But inevitably it comes down to the 25 guys who are heading north. It’s a great group of guys and if we stick together, I think the sky’s the limit.”