The local media got to have a conference call with Mike Sweeney at 1 p.m. (had to grab some Taco Time afterward), and he was engaging, smart and positive – everything I’d heard about him from people he dealt with in the past.
Most people figured that Sweeney’s career was over last season, after the Oakland A’s released him in September after being hampered by knee injuries. But it didn’t sit well with him.
“It was first time in my 14-year career that I had to take a blow like that, it was tough to pill to swallow,” Sweeney said.
In the offseason, Sweeney said he started getting some phone calls about teams possibly interested and decided to give it another shot.
“I started cranking it back up in the gym,” he said.
Of the teams interested, Sweeney was drawn to the Mariners for two reasons: 1. Manager Don Wakamatsu, 2. Family ties to the Northwest.
Sweeney was glowing in his praise of Wakamatsu after spending last season in Oakland with him.
“Once Don Wakamatsu got the job, that put Seattle as my No. 1 team I wanted to play for,” In, my 18 years of professional baseball, I’d say Don Wakamatsu in terms of baseball men is one of my top three. He’s a leader, he’s intelligent, he communicates well and he’s just a brilliant student of the game. I admired him from the first day I met him in Oakland last year. I think he’s going to bring some great leadership and hopefully some passion to the Seattle Mariners this year.”
As for family ties, Sweeney’s wife, Shara, hails from Tacoma. She played volleyball at Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland. Her father is Jim Nettles, a former big league outfielder for the Twins, Tigers and a few other teams. Jim Nettles, who’s also the brother of Graig Nettles, also is a baseball instructor for high school and college athletes in the area. The Sweeneys also own a house in Gig Harbor.
“It would be a really amazing opportunity, stay up in the Northwest with my family,” Sweeney said.
But the real question surrounding Sweeney, at least in the past five years, has always been his health.
For many years,particularly his final years in Kansas City, Sweeney was hobbled by an ailing back. But last season with Oakland, he had surgery on his left knee, which shut him down for a good portion of the season.
“In the last couple seasons had a total of three knee surgeries,” he said. “I was looking double micro fracture surgery this past October. The doctors thought it would be a career-ender and might not be in best interest to do that at this time, Once I got the red flag, I turned my attention toward getting body in best shape I could. Been doing a lot of core strengthening, similar to yoga, called egoscue, that combines running and core strength, I’ve been strengthening around my knee caps and things feel great, I’m hoping that even though some red flags on my resume with my health concerns. I’m hoping when I get to camp some of those concerns will be squashed.”
As for the back, Sweeney also credited the egoscue for helping with the troubles, saying he’s had “zero back issues” since he’s started practicing it.
Sweeney admitted that this may be his last chance to play in the big leagues.
“I know last September I thought that door was closing,” he said. “I was very thankful that a couple of teams were calling in the offseason.”
A year ago, Sweeney defied odds and made the Oakland A’s team out of spring training after signing a minor league contract. He knows the odds are against him again, and if he doesn’t make the Mariners out of spring will then consider retirement.
“If things don’t work out and I don’t make that trip to Minnesota for opening day, I’ll probably head off into the sunset to San Diego with my wife and three kids and be thankful for the opportunity and start looking toward the next chapter of my life.”
As for his role on the team, Sweeney knows most likely he would see the most time at designated hitter, but said he can fill in at first if need be and not be a complete liability.
“I played some first base last year and thought I did a great job,” he said.
Whether it means DHing, getting an occasional start or just pinch hitting, Sweeney believes he can help the Mariners by being a leader.
“Last year we played against the Mariners 18 or 19 times, I just saw a team that
didn’t have any unity or much life. I’m hoping that from day one that not only the leadership of Don Wakamatsu, but hopefully but guys like myself can bring these guys together and help them realize there is strength in numbers.”
Basically, though the guy just wants an opportunity and he isn’t expecting anything other than that.
“If get to play another three years or three weeks, when I walk away I’ll be a proud man,” Sweeney said. “Right now the door is still open. I know there are no guarantees, but I’m still excited to walk through that door.”