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January 29, 2009 at 2:48 PM

Mike Sweeney thrilled to join Mariners

After meeting Mike Sweeney last year when he accepted the Hutch Award in Seattle, and listening to him again today on his conference call, it’s easy to understand why he’s so well-regarded in the industry. When he left Kansas City, the Royals instituted the Mike Sweeney Award to recognize the player that best represents the organization on and off the field. Few players are held in higher regard for their citizenship.
Sweeney was bursting with enthusiasm on the conference call, but he was also realistic. He knows there are no guarantees of making the team, especially with a minor-league contract and his history of health issues. But Sweeney insists he feels great, and that his knees aren’t an issue. He had surgery on both knees last year with Oakland. In fact, he said his back isn’t a problem, either. It was back problems that pretty much robbed Sweeney of his power in KC and took him from five-time All-Star with the Royals to just an average player. He swears by something called egoscue, which I had never heard of but that he compares to yoga. Sweeney said that since he started doing egoscue three years ago, his back has been great.
Sweeney raves about Don Wakamatsu, said he feels capable of playing first base as well as DH, and believes he has considerable leadership qualities to offer the Mariners, a team he thought “didn’t look like they had much unity or life” last year.
It was hard to come off that call and not believe that maybe Sweeney can really help the Mariners. His relentless positivity has that kind of effect on people. But the key, obviously, is to stay healthy, and he’s been unable to do that for a long, long time.
Here’s the story I wrote on after talking to Sweeney.
Here are some Sweeney quotes from the conference call:
“At the end of the season last year, I was released by the Oakland A’s, toward the end of September. It was the first time in my 14-year career to take a blow like that. It was a tough pill to swallow. I came back to San Diego. My wife was pregnant with our third child. I said, maybe this is it. Maybe this is God’s way of closing the door.
“A few weeks later, I started getting phone calls from a few teams. I started cranking it up in the gym. I feel great. I’m 100 percent ready to go. I have that mental passion and the fire burning in my heart to come to camp and hopefully have an impact on the team, whether it’s for six weeks of spring training, or the whole ’09 season. I want to leave a legacy, and make it a positive one.
“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 take Don Wakamatsu as far as just a baseball man. He’s one of the top three. He’s a leader, he’s intelligent, he communicates well. I admired him from the first day I met him in Oakland last year. I think he’ll bring great leadership and hopefully passion to the Mariners this year.
“Once Wak got the job, I was so excited at the opportunity that maybe I could go home. My wife, Shara, is from Tacoma. She played volleyball at PLU. We actually have a house in Gig Harbor. If things work out, it will be a really amazing opportunity to play for the Seattle Mariners, be home, and stay in the Northwest with our family.
“Lastly, in ’08, I took a love for the Hutch Center when I was awarded the Hutch Award. Being at the research center and hospital with the kids was something I took a lot of pride in. If I have the opportunity to play in Seattle, it’s one of the places I’d love to invest in.”
“In the last couple of seasons, I had a total of three knee surgeries. I was looking at possible double micro-fracture surgery in October. The doctors concluded it would probably be a career-ender, and not in my best interest to do that. Once I got that red flag from the doctors, I put my attention into getting my body into the best shape I could. I’m doing a lot of core strengthening. I’m doing egoscue, which is similar to yoga. It combines running, core strength and flexibility. I just got done running a half hour ago. I’m hoping that even though there’s some red flags on my resume with some of the health concerns, when I get to to camp some of those will be squashed, and I’ll have an impact from day 1.
“I’ve definitely paid my dues. I’m going to go to camp, put my head down, take the bull by the horns and leave everything on the field. If it doesn’t work out and I don’t make the trip to Minnesota for Opening Day, I’ll probably sail off into the sunset to San Diego with my wife and kids and look to the next chapter.
“About three years ago, I started doing egoscue, and since I’ve been doing it, I’ve had zero back issues. I don’t think I’ll ever have back issues again if I continue with the routine.
“Whatever role Jack and Wak want me to do, I’ll do it. Personally, I played some first base last year and felt I did a great job. I feel I can help the team out as DH, maybe a little first base. If they need me to come off the bench, I feel I can do that. The main thing I want to do is be a leader. Last year, we played the Mariners 17, 18 times, and from the opposing dugout, it didn’t look like there was much unity or life. I’m hoping from Day One, with not only the leadership of Wak, but guys like myself, we can help bring guys together and remind them there’s strength in numbers. Fans in Seattle crave a winner. I remember playing in Seattle when they were winning. That Northwest is a crazy place when they have a winner. Hopefully, 2009 will be that time for the Mariners.”
“People ask me, man, you’ve had a great career, why sign a minor-league deal? Why not walk away?…I feel God has given me an amazing ability to play the game, and He’s also given me passion and leadership qualities I think can help. I’m going to play this game until the Good Lord lets me know loud and clear those days are gone. If I play another three years, or three weeks, when I walk away I’ll be a proud man. I know the door is open right now, but I know there’s no guarantees.”



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