View Full Version : Mike Sweeney is the man for the Royals

04-02-2003, 03:10 AM
Mike Sweeney had a decent opening day for the Royals. He walked in his first at-bat, socked a towering fly out in his next plate appearance and finished the day with a double.

The stars in the Royals' season-opening 3-0 victory against the White Sox were starting pitcher Runelvys Hernandez, shortstop Angel Berroa and designated hitter Ken Harvey. They got their share of attention following the game.

But Sweeney was swarmed in the clubhouse by the Kansas City media Monday afternoon. Reporters thrust microphones, cameras and tape recorders in Sweeney's face, eager for his thoughts.

Sweeney, in the first year of a five-year contract that will pay him $55 million, is the go-to player for the Royals on and off the field.

He created a minor stir during the winter when he voiced some doubts about the upcoming year. Sweeney reversed that opinion before heading to spring training.

Each time, his words caught people's attention. So even on a day when Sweeney didn't knock in the game-winning run or hit a mammoth homer, he was sought after.

"It's a great start," Sweeney said. "A lot of the media is rooting against us. No one is picking us to win."

Sweeney said Monday that the team believes in itself this year, and if there are any doubters in the clubhouse, they might as well pack their bags.

Actually, it's hard to believe Sweeney would ever tell a teammate to leave. It's not in the makeup of a man who is quick with a hug for teammates and friends.

Sure, it sounds as sappy as a greeting card, but Sweeney cares about the people around him, how the Royals are viewed and the privilege of playing major-league baseball.

It's not an act that appears only when the camera lights turn on. Just ask Dee Brown.

Last year Brown spent most of his time in Class AAA Omaha, Neb. He played in just 16 games for the Royals, and he wasn't a lock to be with the team this year.

None of that mattered to Sweeney.

"I told him it was Mom's birthday. He came to my house in Florida," Brown said of Sweeney's off-season visit.

And then Brown had to laugh at that memory.

"He was probably one of only two or three white people at the whole party," Brown said. "He said nice things about my mother. My mother just loves him. My nephew talks to Sweeney on the phone.

"He's real positive in any situation, personal stuff and on the field. You ask yourself sometimes, `How could somebody be so nice?' But that's his nature."

But a competitive fire burns inside of Sweeney. He wants to be part of a winner. That's one reason why his contract stipulates that he can become a free agent after the 2004 season if the Royals fail to play .500 baseball.

As nice as Sweeney is known to be, he's not afraid to be critical when the situation demands it.

A year ago on April 28, after a 13-0 loss to Baltimore, Sweeney vented his frustration.

"I hope, I wish I could say we were playing at 100 percent," Sweeney said after that game. "To get blown out 13-0 and guys are charging around like they don't care, for me, it is embarrassing. The least you can do is act like you care."

From time to time, a leader will have to get tough. Sweeney has the on-field credentials to take a stand. He knocked in 86 runs last year in 126 games.

In 2001, Sweeney had 99 RBIs, falling short of the 144 RBIs he had in 2000. The way Sweeney hit the ball during spring training this year, he looks ready to get back to a 100-plus-RBI season.

"You can only lead people who want to be led," Sweeney said. "I never tried to tell people to follow me. I just try to lead by example. Even when I was a rookie, I tried to lead by example to the older guys, but not many wanted to follow.

"This is my eighth year in Kansas City and guys look to you to be a leader and that's when you become a true leader. I'm still the same guy, but guys are looking to me and I'm doing my part."

Despite the big contract and the high expectations that come with it, Sweeney remains the same person as the one who was fighting for a starting spot in 1996.

"It's his faith," Royals third baseman Joe Randa said. "He's always believed he was going to be a player in this league. He believed in himself, and the people around him believe in him.

"If you are a player and you believe in yourself, you will get to the level that he's at."