If there was a "Good Guy Award" in the Major Leagues (in fact, he has earned Marvin Miller Man of the Year honors and the Roberto Clemente Award in past seasons), Sweeney would be a leading candidate every year. He's so darn accommodating, although he showed up about half an hour late for an interview for this story -- and apologized for the tardiness."I'm really sorry," he said. Being late is unusual for him. Sweeney was here last week when camp opened for pitchers, catchers and players, like him, coming back from injury. But he would have been here early, regardless of his health. "I take a lot of pride being captain of this team and showing up with the pitchers and catchers is something a leader should do," he said. "From Day 1, I want to get this team together as one unit. We have a special group of guys here and I want to be part of it. I want to be part of leading this team to something special." It was not out of character, then, for him to notice rookie Billy Butler -- sitting at a table by himself on Saturday, eating lunch and having a Daytona 500 conversation with some reporters -- and invite him to sit at a table with Sweeney and several other players. "I know what it takes to bring a team together," he said. "It might be calling Billy over to sit with the veterans, or like last night taking Alex Gordon to dinner and making him feel comfortable. It's the little things than can mean a lot and I want to do my part." Sweeney and Gordon, the hot-shot rookie and former first overall draft choice, dined on salmon and Sweeney picked up the tab." "That was a big surprise," Gordon said. "I never expected it. But that's the way he is. I saw it the first day last spring. "I was the new guy in camp and didn't know anybody. He walked up to me, put his arm around me and asked if I needed anything." Sweeney knows the feeling. "When I was the rookie, Jeff Montgomery, Mike McFarlane and Tim Belcher took care of me," he said. "They paid for my dinners and cabs and always told me, 'Mike, when you are a veteran, you do the same thing we're doing.' "I'm just passing the torch." In the end, however, a healthy captain is more important to the Royals than a big-hearted one. "Our lineup is vastly different with Mike Sweeney in the middle of it," general manager Dayton Moore said. "Not only his presence from a production standpoint, but presence from a leadership standpoint. He's a great encourager and has a strong passion for winning. "I know Mike has worked awfully hard this winter and made the commitment to be a special player again." His offseason workout regimen included Egoscue, a combination of core strengthening, Pilates and yoga. "I always thought yoga was for women and it never applied to us macho men," he laughed. "But going on the DL with spine problems two of the last three years caused me to break down, and it has been amazing. I can touch my toes, easily, and even touch my palms. I was doing things over the winter that I never dreamt I could do. "I've never felt more flexible or stronger in my career."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.