It’s the middle innings of a Padres TV telecast and isn’t Mark Sweeney a tad early?
“Hopefully I can inject something without being the third guy that is stuffed in there,” Sweeney said.
There’s always room for the knowledgeable Sweeney, especially when the Rancho Santa Fe resident is preaching baseball on Fox Sports.
“This is a blessing,” he said.
Sweeney was a godsend as a pinch-hitter, making numerous managers look smart over a 14-year career in the majors. It was late in games where Sweeney shined when he delivered countless clutch at-bats. His 102 RBIs as a pinch-hitter are tops in baseball history. His 175 pinch-hits are No. 2 all-time.
With those credentials, Fox colleagues Mark Grant and Don Orsillo can always slide over. If Sweeney’s in the booth — or chatting before and after Padres games — he’s always worth a listen.
Instead of having all the answers, Sweeney shares the challenges all players face.
“I want to bring the everyday realization of how hard this game is,” said Sweeney, who played for seven teams that included two stints with the Padres. “The game was so hard for me.”
But the sweet-swinging lefty who started with the 1991 Boise Hawks in Single-A stuck around. The ninth-round pick of the California Angels started a journey that required him to do the little things in order to make a big impression.
“I had to figure out a way, day-to-day, how to stay in it,” Sweeney said.
That meant paying attention while watching Tony Gwynn punish thousands of baseballs from a tee. That meant listening when veterans and coaches distributed lessons of a game in which no one has all the answers.
“I really do like talking about baseball and the strategy that goes into a three-hour game,” Sweeney said. “And I would love to get better and better at doing it.”
Sweeney, 48, spelled Grant five times this year in handling nine innings and he worked two nationally televised FOX games this season. He’s wrapping up his sixth season putting his discerning eye on the rebuilding Padres and just what does he see?
“A lot of people thought they would be right around 100 losses this season and that didn’t happen,” Sweeney said. “And you got to see who was going to step up as big leaguers.”
Manuel Margot in center field gets two thumbs up from Sweeney. Same goes for catcher Austin Hedges. Both are considered integral building blocks for an organization that is sinking to its seventh straight losing season.
“Manny is the guy that sticks out to me as legitimate,” he said. “And with Austin, it’s the work that he puts in with the pitchers that is just incredible. Both of them are everyday players that are trying to get better, every day.”
Sweeney, though, points to Jose Pirela as the team’s MVP. An outfielder thought to be a descending player after a poor season last year has established himself as part of the mix going forward.
Hunter Renfroe’s rise and fall? While he hit 20 home runs, he was also demoted to Triple-A last month. He hit his 21st homer on Monday, the day he was recalled.
“He does have some stuff he has to clean up,” Sweeney said. “Defensively we know he has a strong arm but sometimes you just don’t know where it is going. And in trying to hit the 500-foot homers instead of the 375-foot ones consistently, he’s going to have to make that adjustment. But if he puts in the work, I think there is a lot of upside there.”
Sweeney, as usual, is on the up-and-up. That rings true no matter the inning.
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports