PEORIA, Ariz. – Mike Sweeney, a five-time American League All-Star, has been around long enough to know many simple truths of baseball.
One of the biggest?
“You don’t make the team on March 6th,” he said.
But if you could, he would.
Instead, for now, Sweeney is being what he has been throughout his brief Mariners career: a feel-good story, going 4 for 4 Saturday in leading Seattle to a 7-4 exhibition win against the San Diego Padres.
The 36-year-old veteran of 15 major league seasons is trying to make the Mariners as a nonroster invitee, with most presuming his odds as long as the lines outside the bars in Vancouver, B.C., last weekend.
The trades for Milton Bradley and Casey Kotchman, the return of Ken Griffey Jr. and the signing of Ryan Garko appear to give the Mariners all the designated hitters and first basemen they’ll need.
The Mariners waited until Feb. 12 to re-sign Sweeney, who said he had other offers but wanted to return to Seattle if he could. He hit .281 in 74 games for the M’s last year during a season in which he also was widely credited for improving the atmosphere in the clubhouse.
He finished the year on a high note, hitting .311 in the second half of the season. He has picked up where he left off, going 6 for 7 in his first two games of the spring with a home run, a double and four runs batted in.
The homer and double each came Saturday.
“When he comes in and swings the bat like he did today, he does everything to make you want to take him with you,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said.
Not that Sweeney needed it, but he had some additional incentive, saying he wanted to do something special for the birthday of his 6-year-old son, Michael James, who attended the game with his two siblings.
Among the other gifts the younger Sweeney received was a $20 bill from Griffey.
“A chance to see me play today is priceless,” said Mike Sweeney, whose children are flying out for the weekends with Sweeney’s wife. “Whatever the end results (in terms of making the team), it’s gravy for me.”
Still, he doesn’t plan to go down without a stiff fight.
Sweeney said he did more running this offseason than he ever has, including many journeys up an incline he called “puke hill” near his San Diego home – though he managed to never actually puke, he said.
His oft-troublesome knee appears to have made it through all the work just fine.
“I worked hard this winter,” Sweeney said. “That’s part of the reason I came to camp – I’ve worked so hard. So even though the oddsmakers say it’s going to be a tough battle (to make the team), why not come to camp for six weeks and just let it hang out and see what happens?”
He added that recent work with Mariners hitting coach Alan Cockrell has improved how he uses his legs when hitting low pitches, which helped pay off in the home run he hit against the Padres.
Sweeney knows that if nothing else, playing well for the Mariners could create an opportunity elsewhere.
“He looked great,” Wakamatsu said. “His knee feels good. We’ll see. It’s early. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Mike is doing what he can, and that’s all we care about.”