By Jay Paris
When Mark Sweeney slid behind a microphone, he had no experience.
“And no ego,” said Mark Grant, Sweeney’s colleague on Fox Sports San Diego.
While the Padres have stumbled from the gate in typical fashion, Sweeney is reaching his stride.
In Sweeney’s third year of yapping about baseball instead of playing it, he’s become a hit.
“There’s a lot of dynamics that go into it,” said Sweeney, a Rancho Santa Fe resident. “It’s just not talking. You are exposed by what comes out of your mouth.”
Luckily for Sweeney, his jaws aren’t far from his brain, which is crammed with the know-how of 14 years in the major leagues. That includes three stints with the Padres and the 1998 season when they reached the World Series.
No kids, it really did happen. And Sweeney loves recalling it.
But he likes diving into the present as much as the past, peeling back the layers of baseball.
Sweeney speculates on what will happen in the pre-game show; and what happened and why in the post-game show. He’s the bread between nine innings of baseball, and usually his slice of the game is fresh.
Which is no accident.
Many well-known names coast on their credentials in the booth. Sweeney admits his moniker doesn’t light up the marquee, so he goes the extra mile to give the extra information.
“His knowledge of the game is tremendous,” said Grant, who teams with Dick Enberg to provide color commentary during games. “He works really hard at being prepared as well.”
Sweeney knows a thing a two about getting ready. He kept his uniform on by neglecting to switch his off button as a player. Sweeney’s 175 pinch hits are No. 2 in baseball history, his 102 RBIs, No. 1.
Both are remarkable accomplishments, requiring a willingness to embrace a lesser role with the proper attitude on the backside of a career.
“You never grow up thinking you’re going to be a successful pinch hitter, you want to be an every day player,” Sweeney said. “But I wanted to be successful at it and it was an every day thing that kept me motivated to keep a uniform on. It was fun doing it.”
But the laughs stop when the production dwindles. When Sweeney knew his time was kaput, he ached to stay in the game.
“My last year I finished up, I was awful,” said Sweeney, who easily pokes fun at himself. “But I was always still prepared because that was on me. Even though the skills deteriorated, I always wanted to be prepared.”
Sweeney had his life mapped out. He wanted to remain in baseball, but just not the travel that accompanied it. He crisscrossed the nation at 35,000 feet enough to know he wanted to put his feet up after retiring in 2008.
Sweeney cast some feelers regarding broadcasting, but didn’t get many nibbles.
“I wasn’t that name player and I had an understanding of that,” Sweeney said. “I realized who I was and why I was in the game, which was fine. A lot of the broadcasters are Hall of Famers, prime-time guys.”
After ending his career with the Dodgers, their general manager, Ned Coletti, offered Sweeney a front-office role. It included on-field coaching during spring training, and sure enough, Sweeney was wearing a Dodger uniform when Fox Sports San Diego called.
“I felt bad when I had to walk into Ned’s office and tell him,” Sweeney said. “But it was a no-brainer for me.”
And, like in baseball, it came with no guarantees. If Sweeney swung and missed, he wouldn’t be on air long.
“I liked that part of it because that was my whole career,” Sweeney said. “You’ve got to perform.”
And he has.
“He has worked really hard at being on TV and it has become second nature to him,” Grant said.
But in this second career, he’s still asked to do what he once did best: pinch hit.
Sweeney fills in for Grant on occasion, and the irony is not lost an either of them.
Once a backup, always a backup, hey Sween Dog?
“If he has an ego,” Grant said, “he checks it at the door.”
It’s the door marked “opportunity” and Sweeney hasn’t squandered his second one in baseball.
Contact Jay Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports.