Mariners give Sweeney Minors deal
Veteran infielder receives invitation to Spring Training
The next chapter of Mike Sweeney's productive Major League career takes him to Peoria, Ariz., where he'll attempt to earn a spot on the Mariners' Opening Day roster.After spending the offseason acquiring younger talent, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik took a different path on Thursday, signing the 35-year-old Sweeney to a Minor League contract that includes an invitation to camp as a non-roster player. "I'm going to go to camp, put my head down and leave everything I can on the field," Sweeney said. "If things don't work out, and I don't make that trip to Minnesota [for Opening Day], I'll probably just sail off into the sunset to San Diego with my wife and three kids, be thankful for the opportunity, and look into the next chapter of my life." And if it does work out, the Mariners could wind up not only with one of the classiest people ever to wear a big league uniform but a potential team leader. Leadership was one of the things Sweeney talked about during a Thursday afternoon conference call with Seattle-based media. The battered knees that limited him to 42 games with the Athletics last season are healthy, and he still has a burning desire to play. But most of all, he wants to help unite the Mariners players. "We played 18 or 19 games against the Mariners last season and from the opposite dugout it looked like a team that didn't have any unity and there wasn't much life," he said. "I hope to bring these guys together and convince them there is strength in numbers. Fans in Seattle crave a winner. The northwest is a crazy place when they have a winner, and hopefully, '09 will be the year for the Mariners." Sweeney said he went into the offseason with an uncertain future. "At the end of the season last year, I was released by the A's toward the end of September and it was the firs time in my 14-year career that I'd taken a blow like that," he said. "It was a tough pill to swallow. I went home and I was 99 percent done. I told my wife, Shara, 'I'm about done and I'm going to prepare for the next chapter.'" But he started getting some phone calls from a few organizations.
"I started cranking it back up and I feel great," he said. "I'm 100 percent ready to go. I have that mental passion and the fire burning in my heart to come back and have an impact on the team."His interest increased when the Mariners hired Don Wakamatsu, an A's coach last season, as the manager. "That put Seattle as my No. 1 team," Sweeney said. "I wanted to play for him. In my 18 years of professional baseball, Don, as far as baseball men, is among the top two or three I've ever met. He's a leader, he's intelligent, he communicates well and he's a brilliant student of the game. I admired him from the first day I met him in Oakland last year." Sweeney said he would report to camp in Peoria, Ariz., on Feb. 13, along with pitchers, catchers and position players that were injured last season. A Sweeney-Mariners marriage would seem to have potential. His leadership qualities, which date to his halcyon days with the Royals, would come in handy, as would his bat, which has produced a .299 career batting average, 199 home runs and 849 RBIs in 1,324 games. "We wouldn't have signed Mike if we didn't think he could still play," Wakamatsu said. "He is a quality, quality person and one thing that was so good about last year was his patience at the plate. I don't think he struck out in his first 100 at-bats. "He gives us some options at first base, designated hitter, and would be a right-handed bat off the bench."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.