The clock ticks inside Mark Sweeney, but like all hooked on baseball, he hits the snooze button.
“It’s in your blood to know that you are going to have that opening day,” said Sweeney, a Padres analyst for San Diego Fox Sports.
That celebrated day was supposed to be on Thursday, when the Padres had hoped to lift the curtain on what the local nine promises will be a turnaround season.
But the coronavirus has thrown the sport, and our way of life, a big-time curve.
“It puts everything in perspective,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney’s major league career spanned 14 seasons and three stints with the Padres, one of which included the 1998 World Series squad.
After Sweeney retired in 2008 he turned to coaching, being a front-office executive and then to broadcasting. He was prepared to start his eighth year chatting up the Padres.
Those plans hit an obstacle, making it the third baseball interruption Sweeney has experienced.
“This feels like 9/11,” said Sweeney, a Carmel Valley resident. “You have that empty feeling in your stomach. So you just focus on your kids and family.”
Sweeney recalls when opening day was delayed in 1995, the continuation of a strike which wiped out the 1994 World Series.
“That was a strange start to the season,” he said.
Sweeney began the year with the Vancouver Canadians, the Angels’ top minor league team. But Sweeney, an outfielder, had his path to the majors blocked by veterans.
“I was trying to figure out what I had to do to get to the big leagues,” Sweeney said. “No matter what level you are at it feels like you are far away from the big leagues.”
Sweeney eventually became, far-and-away, baseball’s top pinch-hitter with 102 RBI. His 175 pinch hits are No. 2 all-time.
Sweeney’s big break came when he was sent to the St. Louis Cardinals just before Chris Sabo busted his nose.
Sweeney was peddled to Louisville, the Cardinals’ Triple-A team. A corner outfielder by trade, Sweeney was asked if he ever played first base.
He nodded, and maybe the part about him last being stationed there in high school wasn’t communicated loudly.
Anyway, the sun was such at the diamond, which doubled as Louisville’s football field, that it blinded first basemen in the early innings. Sabo, a noted third baseman with the Cincinnati Reds, tried to extend his career with the Cardinals at first. The result wasn’t pretty, but it was bloody.
“The third baseman threw a ball over to Sabo and he totally missed it,” Sweeney said. “It smoked him right in the face and he came in and said, ‘I’m not playing there anymore.’ ”
Sabo’s white flag led to Sweeney kicking on the big league door. He made his debut on Aug. 4 with the Cardinals, at first base, went hitless in his four at-bats and got his first knock the next day.
“It was a chore for me to get, and to keep, a major league uniform,” Sweeney said. “Although it never felt like a business, it just felt like a cool challenge.”
Another chill task is reading the Padres, a squad that seeks to avoid a franchise-record 10th consecutive losing season.
The brass swore the days of focusing on development are in the past, with the goal of winning filling the present and future.
Sweeney, who worked spring training telecasts, is impressed with first-time manager Jayce Tingler, a stacked bullpen and shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr., who’s infectious for all the right reasons.
“He’s a guy that not only has talent, but a lot of people just feed off him,” Sweeney said.
When those hungry for baseball will be satisfied is a question Sweeney can’t answer. When the bell rings, he’ll embrace a game that, especially in a pinch, has seldom let him down.
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