Sweeney inks one-day deal to retire with Royals

Sweeney inks one-day deal to retire with Royals

Sweeney inks one-day deal to retire with Royals
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Mike Sweeney is back with the Kansas City Royals. He signed a contract with the organization on Friday and then announced his retirement as a player.

"It's a dream come true for me to retire as a Royal," Sweeney said.

The Royals held a retirement ceremony for Sweeney, 37, at Dick Howser Field at their Spring Training camp. General manager Dayton Moore signed Sweeney to a one-day Minor League contract so he could go out as a Royal.

"I spent 17 years here, and I wanted my last day in a Major League uniform to be Royal blue," he told a crowd of players, staff and family, including his wife, Shara, sons Michael and Donovan and daughter McKara.

Moore and manager Ned Yost presented Sweeney with a fly-fishing rod and a royal blue rocking chair. It was announced that Sweeney would throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day next Thursday, when the Royals meet the Los Angeles Angels, the team that he cheered as a kid in Southern California.

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Sweeney, who wore his No. 29 uniform, would also take out the lineup card for Friday night's Cactus League game against the World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Yost kidded that he might use Sweeney for more than that.

"Ned told me when I walked in his office, 'You look pretty good, you look like you've been working out. I'd like to see you hit. Maybe we'll keep you around,' " Sweeney said.

Sweeney will continue to be around the Royals as time goes by.

"I think I'll be joining the organization in some capacity," he said. "My role has yet to be identified but it's something that's going to evolve."

Sweeney said he would welcome working with young players.

"I had a small part in bringing a championship flag to Philly, and that was a great feeling. And I was not able to do that as a player in Kansas City, and that breaks my heart," Sweeney said. "My desire is I could team up with guys like Dayton and the Glass family and the Minor Leagues and again have a small part, hopefully, in bringing a flag to Kansas City."

Sweeney ended his career in last year's playoffs with the Philadelphia Phillies after being with the Seattle Mariners in 2009-10 and the Oakland A's in '08. But it was his 13 big-league seasons with Kansas City that stayed close to his heart.

"Today is my last day," he told the assembled players. "From this day forward, I'm never going to have a regret, because I wore this uniform with pride, I worked my butt off -- never took a shortcut. And please guys, do that."

In addition to the Glass family, Sweeney recognized scout Art Stewart, Hall of Famer George Brett, Frank White and other alumni and the Minor League coaching staff.

Brett spoke at Friday's ceremony and saluted Sweeney: "The dedication that he had as a player was beyond the dedication of anyone I had ever seen. ... Nobody in a Royals uniform had more passion."

Sweeney turned his ceremony into something of a pep rally for the Royals Minor Leaguers.

"I want to challenge you. Whether you're in Rookie ball or Triple-A ball, don't think that your dream is very far away because it's not," he said in rousing speech.

Everyone who knows Sweeney has their own memories of this joyous man who loved God, family and baseball with unbridled enthusiasm. He often seemed just too good to be true.

As his old friend and teammate Joe Randa once said: "Somebody could cut him off on the road and something good would come of it."

Recalling his career reaches beyond the wins, losses, honors and statistics.

One of his proudest moments, oddly, was a very un-Sweeney-like event -- a straight steal of home against the Yankees. He loves to tell the story about how he timed his dash to coincide with the closing of pitcher Andy Pettitte's eyes in the stretch. Sweeney made it, but manager Tony Pena nearly fainted in the Royals' dugout.

Another unlikely -- but very memorable -- incident came on Aug. 10, 2001, when he charged the Kauffman Stadium mound to tackle Tigers pitcher Jeff Weaver, who hurled not a baseball but a demeaning, vulgar insult at Sweeney. Weaver's reward was being body-slammed to the turf and Sweeney's punishment was a 10-day suspension.

When Sweeney was at his healthy best, many observers thought he was the best right-handed hitter in the American League. He certainly was in 2000, the year he ripped off a .333 average, 29 homers and a Royals record 144 RBIs.

Strangely enough, that great year could have happened for the White Sox. Just two years before, Sweeney was the Royals' third-string catcher and spent much of Spring Training asking the writers about the latest trade rumors. There was one that he'd be dealt to Chicago, but that never happened.

And, in 1999, manager Tony Muser decided that Sweeney, whom he called "Reverend," wasn't a catcher. "I broke his heart," Muser recalled. But Muser worked him in as the designated hitter and, when Jeff King retired in May, Sweeney became the first baseman. His career took off. Among other things, he had RBIs in 13 straight games, second most ever in the AL.

The seasons from 1999-2002 were the prime of his career. In those four years, he batted a cumulative .324 and averaged 26 home runs, 30 doubles and 108 RBIs a season. But it was in the 2002 season that he went on the disabled list for the first time. His back would be a continuing painful concern.

Later it would be his knees. He spent more frustrating days on the bench and on the disabled list than he cares to remember. Yet Sweeney, who often had a Bible in his hand, remained determinedly upbeat.

There weren't many down days for Sweeney. He was the Royals' team captain for years and was an understanding counselor for young players. Billy Butler was one of them.

Butler reminisced about that last winter: "I got to be around Mike Sweeney in 2007 when I came up, and everybody knows what type of person Mike is. And if I could be half of what Mike Sweeney was, I'll be happy with it."

Sweeney gave out more hugs than Tommy Lasorda, wrapping his big arms around one and all. Even the Marine-straight Muser succumbed to the Sweeney influence and occasionally yielded to a hug.

A loyal person who could speak his mind, Sweeney openly campaigned for coach John Mizerock to become the Royals' manager in 2002 before Pena was hired. Mizerock had been his manager in the Minors at Wilmington, Del., and molded him as a professional, as Sweeney pointed out again on Friday.

Whether he was at home or on the road, Sweeney was "the governor" or "the mayor" and worked the crowd along the railings before games to shake hands and sign autographs. The Sweeney smile and the glitter in his eyes were magic, especially to the kids.

But that came naturally to him, raised as one of eight children by Big Mike and Maureen Sweeney in Southern California. When he went to his first All-Star Game in 2000 at Atlanta, he took his little sister with him so she could share in the ceremonies.

It seemed natural that Sweeney found his bride, Shara, in a baseball family headed by ex-Major Leaguer Jim Nettles. There was a happy "baby watch" during Spring Training 2004 in Surprise, Ariz., that resulted in the birth of "Mini-Mike." The Sweeneys since have welcomed two more children into the world.

Sweeney has had an impact on many lives. He's been a great friend to those inside and outside the game.

His only playoff experience came last fall with the Phillies, and, in his only at-bat, he got the last hit of his career against Reds flame-thrower Aroldis Chapman. What meant most to Sweeney, though, was that his parents, his wife and his agent, Seth Levinson, who'd just lost his mother, got to share that special moment of joy.

A personal note:

After having serious surgery in 2006, my hospital room was brightened by the arrival of a smiling but very concerned Sweeney. He'd had all of the Royals sign a jersey with well wishes and brought it over.

"I'll never forget that day," he told me on Friday after his announcement.

Neither will I.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.