This is the first time I’ve been near a stable(ish) Internet connection since the news came out Friday that Mike Sweeney signed a one-day contract with the Royals and retired. Like many Royals fans of this era, I have Opinions about Sweeney. But unlike most cynical bloggers out there, mine are positive ones.
Mike Sweeney, indirectly, once taught me to quit being stupidly shy, and to at least ask for things when opportunities arise. When I was about 12, my family and I went to a Royals game at The K – a rare treat in those days. I grew up in waaaay-out-West Nebraska, so the drive to Kansas City was one we only made a few times. I didn’t have a whole lot of experience in ballpark attendance, and the place seemed big and kind of intimidating. So when I walked past the glass doors that led to the exit the players used and saw Sweeney standing there, I didn’t even try to get his attention to ask for an autograph (or even say hello).
When I got back to my seat, I told my dad that I had walked RIGHT by Sweeney. Dad asked if I had said anything to him, and I said no, because I didn’t think I was allowed to pass through those doors for any reason. He asked if I knew that for sure, and of course I didn’t. Maybe the passage of time has made this seem more significant, but as I recall it, my dad looked me dead in the eye and sternly told me to never do that again – it never hurts to just ask.
Because I was such a scaredy cat when I was little, it wasn’t until 2007 that I got to for-real meet Sweeney. By then, I had decided it was pretty cool that he was a Catholic like me (but way better at it), and had watched and read a whole bunch of interviews with him about that. He was coming to Omaha for a brief rehab assignment, so I got to work suuuuper-early and rushed to get all my pre-game duties done so I could find time to introduce myself. I hovered near the dugout while he did a radio interview, then awkwardly forced myself into his line of sight.
“Hi,” he said. “I’m Mike.”
Inwardly, I giggled at that. Duh! I know who you are, that’s why I’m HERE! Outwardly, I said something like “Hi I’m Minda and I’m Catholic and I think it’s cool that you are too and I was wondering if maybe you could sign a baseball for my brother’s church group but like only if you have a spare minute that would be awesome thanks?” (This was my first season in baseball. I hadn’t gotten very good at talking to anyone even remotely famous yet.)
Not only did he sign a ball for my brother’s campus ministry group like I asked, he disappeared into the clubhouse and came out with an additional signed ball for my brother, and a signed bat for me. It’s one of the only autographed items I truly cherish.
In addition to all that, he also invited me and my family to join him the next morning for Sunday Mass. It was really neat, to say the least.
The following winter, Sweeney was a speaker at a church conference I went to with my best friend. When I approached him, he remembered me by name and asked how I’d been. My friend introduced herself to him, and when we ran into him in an elevator later in the conference, he remembered her name too. Maybe that’s not as heroically nice as I’m making it out to be, because I’m awful with names. But that’s a level of connection to fans that I haven’t seen from any other players.
Anyway, I’m rambling here. But I’m thrilled that the Royals did the one-day contract so Sweeney could retire with the proper team. I will defend him to my death if I have to, because it’s not his fault he was hurt a lot. Nobody chooses that path, and nobody who is competitive enough to make it to the Majors in the first place can stand to sit on the bench with a string of stupid injuries. I’ve never understood the people who think he somehow faked injuries, or took joy in missing all those games in the peak of his career for them.
Sweeney’s career line is .297/.366/.486 – significantly better than most current Royals hitters. But some fans still like to loudly insist that “he sucks” or whatever. Those people are entitled to those opinions, but I just can’t agree. Best wishes to Mike Sweeney in whatever he does next.