Sunday, April 23, 2006

Our Day with Mike Sweeney

Friday, April 21, 2006 was a very special day for our family. Last fall, my wife and I attended a charity auction for a church that my best friend attends. As it turns out, it is the same church that Mike Sweeney attends.

Up for auction that evening was something called “A Day at the K with Mike Sweeney.” The description indicated something about spending some time with Sweeney and watching batting practice from the dugout. When this item was up for bid, I kept raising my hand. My wife was getting more and more upset as the price went higher and higher. We finally won the item and wrote a nice big check that night.

I got in touch with Sweeney’s attorney this spring as we made the arrangements. We were instructed to be at the stadium at 3:00 Friday afternoon. I have a boy who is 12 and a daughter who is nine. We told them they could each invite one friend.

We arrived at the stadium and was escorted down by the clubhouse where we saw Mike taking some BP in the cages. We went out to the field to wait for him finish with his batting.

Within a few minutes, Sweeney emerged and greeted the four kids. He introduced himself and shook hands with each child. He explained that he would be giving them a private baseball lesson.

To kick it off, he took the kids for a jog down the right field line and back to the dugout. He then led them in stretching exercises to get loosened up. Once the stretching was done, they grabbed some balls and their gloves and headed out to right field. Sweeney threw grounders, fly balls and pop ups to the kids to give them some good fielding practice. After several minutes of fielding tips, he gathered the kids in for some hitting instruction.

Sweeney gave the kids batting instruction, showing them how to line up their knuckles and produce good level swings. After taking some practice swings, he then threw batting practice to them.

Starting with the two younger girls, Sweeney set them up around 75 feet from the wall and had the boys go out near the wall to shag. He threw a few pitches to my daughter’s friend first, and it wasn't long before she started hitting them over the wall. My daughter got her turn and she hit some balls hard but wasn’t quite able to get one over the fence. Sweeney spent a good 15 minutes throwing to the girls.

Then it was the boys’ turn. Sweeney had them back up to about 150 feet from the fence. My son’s friend hit first and almost immediately began hitting them over the wall and into the fountains. Sweeney kept having him back up more and more, but he still was able to get them out. My son then hit and had as much success. He also was able to hit several over the fence and into the water. The boys also hit for about 15 minutes.

After the boys hit, Sweeney told my daughter, “We’re not leaving here until you hit one out!” He threw her a few pitches and after about 3 or 4, she finally got one over. Everybody got high fives. In all, Sweeney spent a good hour or more with the kids out in right field. And he enjoyed himself as much as the kids enjoyed being there.

He told the boys to run out behind the fence and grab all of their homeruns, and then told all of us to sit in the dugout. He was heading in to stretch with the team and to have batting practice. He told us to hang out in the dugout until after batting practice, and then he’d come over to take some pictures and sign autographs.

The kids were very wide-eyed when all of the Royals players started coming out onto the field to stretch and warm up. They players all said “hi” to the kids as they walked by. I watched and tried to eavesdrop while manager Buddy Bell had his chat with the media in the dugout down the bench from where we sat.

The kids all yelled out “ooohs” and “aaaahs” when the Royals hit their BP homeruns. Sweeney especially seemed to be hitting the ball hard and far.

After BP, Sweeney came over to the dugout and posed for some pictures and then signed everything we put in front of him.

When it was over, he shook everybody’s hand, complimented the good behavior of the kids and thanked us all for coming out. We then exited the stadium, and waited for the gates to open.

I walked up to the ticket window to receive the six tickets that Sweeney had left at the window for us. Section 101, right behind home plate.

We watched an exciting game as the Royals put up a rally in the bottom of the ninth, but fell just short of the win. Sweeney busted out of his slump, going 4-5 with two doubles that were “this close” to being out of the park. We concluded the evening with the awesome fireworks show put on by the Royals after every Friday home game.

After spending more than seven hours at the ballpark, we were all exhausted. But I walked away with a renewed respect for Mike Sweeney. I know that there are fans who believe he is overpaid for being a DH who has been injured frequently over the last few years. But I still believe Sweeney is one of the best hitters in the American League, and the Royals are a much better team with his bat in the lineup. I don’t care if he’s a DH, I think his salary is fair for the production he provides, especially when you compare him to other players around the majors.

But most of all, Mike Sweeney truly is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He really enjoyed his time with my kids and their friends. It was so amazing to see a major league baseball player take that much time and effort. We paid for this service, and the money went to a good cause, but it was well worth it. My kids and their friends will never forget the day they spent playing baseball with Mike Sweeney and hitting balls out of the park at a major league stadium.

I hope Sweeney plays in Kansas City forever. We love you Mike.

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