It didn't seem possible at the beginning of spring training, but Mike Sweeney is making a case to make the Mariners' 25-man roster.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Logic said that Mike Sweeney had absolutely no chance to make the Mariners this spring.
The numbers said it; there are only so many ways you can add up to 25, especially when it’s looking like a certainty, with Cliff Lee’s likely absence at the start of the season, that 12 of them will be pitchers.
The continued presence of Ken Griffey Jr. taking up the role of the defensively limited, clubhouse-energizing veteran DH said it.
Even Mike Sweeney said it, when he showed up at camp this year as a nonroster invitee, signed by the Mariners a few days before camp opened primarily as a favor to one of the true good guys in the game.
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“This year, on paper, there’s no spot for me,” Sweeney told reporters when he arrived.
But decisions aren’t made on paper. They’re made in real life. And Sweeney, at age 36, with two weeks to go until the Mariners break camp, is knocking logic on its ear. He’s creating a spot for himself, out of virtual thin air.
You can hear the drumbeat, sense the shifting of opinions in Mariners camp. It’s still a longshot, mind you. There are still complications, valid reasons to shake Sweeney’s hand at the end of spring, thank him for his contributions, and wish him well.
But now a new game has started: Dreaming up possible ways to twist the roster to make room for Sweeney and his .684 Cactus League batting average. You know, Ryan Garko does have minor-league options left.
Yes, we all know that spring averages are meaningless, except that Sweeney is also acing the eye test. He looks fit and frisky, as healthy and mobile at age 36 as he has been in years. On Thursday, Sweeney laced an opposite-field triple off the right-field wall, then scampered home on a wild pitch. He believes he is capable of playing first base a couple of times a week, and the way he’s moving, that seems plausible.
“All I can control is coming out every day, being a leader here, doing the best I can, and I’m doing that,” Sweeney said Friday. “Easter Sunday will be the day I know if it had an impact.”
The Mariners play their final exhibition game in San Francisco on Easter before opening the season in Oakland the next day. If Sweeney gets to the Bay Area, he will have, presumably, done the improbable. Conquered logic.
“He’s making a strong case for it,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. “Look at the little things, the triple he hit the other day. How much he worked over the winter, and how he feels. He feels in better shape than he’s been in a while. We asked him to come in and play as hard as he can, and he’s doing that.”
There’s no question that the collective force of personality exuded by Sweeney and Griffey helped create clubhouse magic last year. Oh yeah, Sweeney also hit .311 with a .372 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage after the All-Star Game.
The Mariners made the decision early to bring back Griffey, which seemed to simultaneously shut out Sweeney. Wakamatsu covets versatility, bench players that give him defensive options. They went and got Eric Byrnes, Garko, Milton Bradley, re-signed Ryan Langerhans, each acquisition making Sweeney’s barrier for return that much more impenetrable.
Sweeney knew that intellectually. He also knew he had to give it a try.
“Whatever the outcome, I’m hungry to be part of this team,” he said. “I really believe the Seattle Mariners have a chance to win the World Series this year, and I’ve never played in a playoff game. That’s why I’m fighting so hard to be a part of this.”
Perhaps some other team, needing a right-handed bat and a clubhouse facilitator, will notice what Sweeney is doing this spring and come get him. But that is clearly his distant second option.
“I want to be a Seattle Mariner,” he said. “That’s what the fire in my heart and in my mind is all about, being a Mariner. But I’ll let Jack and Don and their staffs make the decision.
“Come Easter Sunday, I’m going to get down on my knees and thank God no matter what. Whether it’s with Seattle, or another team, or at home in San Diego with my wife and kids. Just being here with these guys is an amazing blessing every day.”
Sweeney doesn’t have a ticket stamped for Seattle. But he’s making people rethink the impossible, which is the first step.