A 10th-round draft pick for the Kansas City Royals in 1991, Mike Sweeney made his major league debut on Sept. 14, 1995. He spent the next few years playing in both the majors and the minors, not yet a sure thing in the Kansas City lineup. During spring training of 1999, it was rumored that he would be traded, which was not welcome news.
After going to church and turning to Our Lord in prayer, Sweeney realized that he needed to “let go and let God.” He resolved to put Our Lord first and let him be the guide in his baseball career, and this brought him peace of mind.
In the end, the Royals did not trade him, and he ended up hitting .322 for the season in 1999, along with 22 home runs and 102 RBIs. He was even more productive the next year, posting a .333 average, 29 home runs and 144 RBIs. While playing for the Royals, Sweeney was named an All-Star five times (2000-2003 and 2005).
This past season he played as a designated hitter for the Seattle Mariners, helping the team to win 24 more games than they did in 2008, to finish with an 85-77 record.
Sweeney recently spoke with Register correspondent Trent Beattie.
You’re one of eight children from an Irish Catholic family. How important is family to you?
Family is very important to me. On Nov. 9, 2002, I made a covenant with Jesus when I married the love of my life, Shara. My parents, my two brothers and my five sisters mean everything to me, but my priority is now my wife and my three children, Michael, McKara and Donovan.
I still honor my parents and love my siblings with an agape love, but Scripture says that “A man is to leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife.” Also, Ephesians 5 gives us men the greatest challenge when St. Paul writes that “Men are to love their wives like Christ loved the Church.” It is a challenge but a great compass setting.
You had some medical problems as a baby, but ended up getting through them in a providential, even miraculous way. Could you tell us more about that?
On July 22, 1973, I was born two months premature in Orange, Calif., to a 20-year-old saintly woman and an ex-professional baseball player with the California Angels who to this day is my hero. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Lord had a plan for my life — and it wasn’t dying in that hospital. I had praying parents, grandparents and other family members that lifted my 4 pound young body up to the Lord and, by God’s grace, their prayers were answered.
After weeks in the hospital, I defied the odds and today I stand at 6 feet 2 inches and weigh 220 pounds. I guess it’s not how you start but how you finish!
You’ve shown respect for family in general by promoting pro-life causes. Why are these causes important to you?
My mom is the one who planted the seed in my heart to protect the unborn by plastering her van, aka “The Pro-Life Mobile” with stickers and running the pro-life ministry at our parish, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Ontario, Calif. Growing up, we often were honked at or given the “bird” from those poor souls who didn’t respect life the way we did, but it was all worth it.
When I married, my wife and I took on similar roles. Shara volunteered at The Rachel House, a crisis-pregnancy center in Kansas City. Through my foundation [MikeSweeney.org], we started the Lunch for Life, where we raised money and awareness for the unborn and agencies that supported life.
The greatest gifts have been blessing those who chose life in truly crisis situations by supplying them with money and necessities to get them on their feet. Also, helping pay for the adoptions of babies for those who have a heart of gold to love these children but have an empty pocket. As you can tell, those stickers on my mom’s van brought a love for the unborn to my heart.
There are quite a few other actively pro-life major leaguers, aren’t there?
The newspapers are full of negative stories, but the majority of major league baseball players are God-loving, faithful men who love Jesus, the Blessed Mother and the unborn. I just wish stories of these great men would make the front page rather than end up as clips on the editing room floor.
Do you have a favorite devotion (such as the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet)?
My favorite thing to do as a family is pray the Rosary. A friend of mine, Father Willy Raymond, who works with Family Theater in Hollywood, reminds me of words Father Peyton made famous: “A family that prays together stays together.” It is such a joy to see your 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter ask when it’s their turn to say the Hail Mary. We are never closer as a family than when we pray the Rosary.
How does your faith impact how you see the game of baseball and how you see and interact with teammates?
1 Corinthians says, “If you have the faith to move mountains and have not love, you have nothing.” The greatest fruit of the Holy Spirit that can flow through us if we are not being selfish is love. One way people will know that we are Christians is through the love we show to them.
Baseball is a great game that I have loved to play since I was a boy. It has been said that I have been a great leader and teammate through my career. My greatest asset is the love that I have for my teammates.
Whether in a workplace, school or locker room, love is the foundation necessary to make an impact on someone’s life. Once the teammate, co-worker or student knows you care about them, then and only then are they ready to march with you or become better at their task.
It’s better to give your friend a kick in the pants while you are hugging them rather than blasting them from behind when they least expect it.
Do you have any favorite Catholic books you read on the road?
My favorite Catholic book to read on the road is the Bible. I like to joke with my Protestant brothers on the team that we have the “unedited version of the Bible.” As you know, our Catholic Bible has 73 books while the Protestant Bible was condensed to 66 when Martin Luther broke away from the Church.
Some people think of Catholicism as only being for old women, but do you think there has been an improvement recently with how men are committed to the faith?
Many would be amazed at the number of godly men that play in the major leagues. It’s sad that our pews are filled only with elderly women, and as men, we are not stepping up.
Is it difficult to attend Mass while playing baseball professionally?
It is difficult to attend Mass on the road in the midst of a long, arduous season, but I make the effort because Jesus did so much for me. After leaving the stadium on a Saturday evening at midnight, getting up at 7am to attend 7:30am Mass is not the most exciting thing to do on the way to the stadium — but there is not a better place to be on a Sunday morning than at Mass.
I love speaking with my wife after a Sunday game about that day’s Mass as I walk onto our team airplane. Only in the Catholic Church can I go to Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and my wife attends Mass in San Diego and have the same Liturgy of the Word. It’s fun to discuss the different homilies and churches from the road.
How does it feel to re-sign with the Mariners?
It is joy to put on a big league uniform again as I am living out my childhood dream. I realize this is a gift from God so I want to use it to glorify Him and His Church.
What do you think of last season and what are your expectations for this season?
2009 was the most enjoyable year of my career so I am eager to build on the joy that was experienced last year. My hope is to be a light to the guys in the clubhouse and help the Seattle Mariners win a World Series.
Trent Beattie writes
from Seattle, Washington.