This might be a little on the long side, but I'd prefer it if you'd think of it as as "epic" post. That sounds better. Due up: my weekend with an All-Star, the end of the best job ever, some O-Royals home highlights, and a return to normalcy.
Mike Sweeney is my new best friend
The first time I "met" Mike Sweeney, I was a wide-eyed young teenager and Sweeney was pretty high up on the list of people that I -- and most KC fans -- adored and admired when game time rolled around each night. I was waiting to get on an elevator, and he stepped off of it when the door opened. He looked me in the eye and said, "How ya doin'?" I said, "buh-whaa? heeeeeee." Or something like that. It wasn't English.
This weekend, I made a personal goal to actually introduce myself, and maybe speak some English words this time. On Friday, he was in the lineup for game 1 of the doubleheader, and was swamped with fans before the game. I couldn't get near, although at one point he did pause at my end of the dugout to offer another "Hey, how are you?" sort of thing. I did manage a "Good, thanks. How are you?" but it took some effort.
By the way, I rarely get starstruck. Paul Splittorff, David Eckstein, and Sweeney are the only three people I've encountered that have left me unable to remember how speak, or blink. For the most part, I'm fully aware that these guys, no matter how illustrious of careers they may have, are people too. But I admire Sweeney for more than the baseball stuff. Next to the Pope, Michael John Sweeney is my favorite Catholic in the world. A lot of people ridicule him for the way he shares his faith, but I think it's awesome, and something more Catholics should do. I've known for a while that meeting someone like Sweeney would be a Big Deal in my spiritual life, so yes I was nervous about it.
Anyway, Saturday I was supposed to arrive at Rosenblatt well before the start of our 2nd consecutive double-header. I hurried through my pregame preparations, hoping that when I took my big Bucket O' Stuff to the third base dugout, #29 himself would be in it. Sure enough, Sweeney was down there, giving a radio interview. I have to admit, I hovered around the area until he was done, but I think that given the circumstances it was almost socially acceptable. After the interview ended and Mike stood from the bench to head to the clubhouse, I approached him. "Hi," he said. "I'm Mike."
...are you kidding me? Of course I knew who he was! But he's so unassuming; he was just "Mike." He asked me my name, and told me it was nice to meet me. (wow!) We talked about Catholic stuff for a good 10 minutes, which he could have been using to prepare to play, but chose to give to me instead. I didn't want to be a ridiculous/needy fan, so all I asked was for him to maybe sign a ball for Catholic Campus Ministry in Omaha, with whom my brother is heavily involved. That wasn't enough for my best friend Mike Sweeney. After pausing to sign autographs for every fan at the end of the dugout, and then a new wave of fans who was a little late to arrive, Sweeney disappeared into the clubhouse for a few minutes. He emerged with a signed ball for my brother, and the one we requested for CCM, and...a bat. For me. It wasn't broken or anything; Mike Sweeney just straight-up gave me one of his bats, and it's signed with an awesome message for me as well: "Continue to shine for Jesus!" I hope I can.
A little later, he asked me when and where he could get to Sunday Mass. I suggested one, the parish in which my brother got married two weeks ago, but Mike admitted he'd like to sleep a little later than the 9:00 start time allowed, so he chose a 10:30 Mass instead. He invited me to join him, and bring anyone I wanted to.
The Mass with him was incredible. I am sure I can not adequately describe this to any non-Catholics, but to share in the Eucharist with my HERO in faith was one of the most meaningful 60 minutes of my life. After it ended, he left the pew before we did, and we thought he had ninja-vanished on us. Turns out, he had just wanted to say hi to Chris Lubanski, who was a few pews away and is apparently also a devout Catholic. After that, Mike actually waited for all of us outside of the church so he could chit-chat with my brothers and sister-in-law.
After we parted ways, we all agreed it felt like we had known him our whole lives. Mike Sweeney is indeed my new best friend.
The end of all things?
It had to end like this. It had to be perfect, after the season the O-Royals have given their home crowd. The team gave us an absurd about of baseball in the closing weekend: 14 innings in two games Friday, 17 innings in two games Saturday, and then Sunday's 13-inning affair.
Brandon Duckworth was unbelievable, going 7 full innings, walking zero, giving up zero runs and only four hits, and striking out six in Omaha's last home game of the year. Mitch Maier ignited the crowd by leading things off with a home run, but bats were quiet for quite a bit after that. Round Rock did not score at all until the top of the 9th, when Greg Atencio surrendered a solo shot that tied the score at one. With the bottom of each inning, I was left to wonder which of the guys was going to be the big hero, the batter everyone remembers this offseason for heroically ending the last home game. Would it be Craig Brazell? Mike Aviles? Justin Huber? None of those names would be surprising to me, given all of their performances when it has counted all season. When each of those guys, along with my personal favorite, Ryan Shealy, dug in, I wondered which pitch would be the last one. Which one of these guys would smack one into the covered bleachers beyond the wall?
I guess I just figured it would end on a home run, because that's what Omaha does. It's weird, but it's the way things are. At home this year, the O-Royals went into extra innings 10 times, which seems like a lot to me, but maybe it's just because I attended each of those. They only lost two games in extras, and won five by way of a walk-off home run. Is it just me, or is that a lot, especially in an organization where power has never been the valued element of the game?
As it turned out, the magic walk-off wasn't hit by any of the Usual Suspects. Instead it was Richard Lewis, but by inning #13 I was willing to bestow the title of "Hero" on anyone who could bring a run home. (Disclaimer: I actually really like Mr. Lewis; he's very kind, but I guess I never figured he'd be the Big Hero.)
After a few minutes of jumping up and down, screaming, high-fiving, running in tight happy circles on top of the Omaha dugout, and screaming some more, the fact that this was The End really hit home. I'm not going to lie to you good folks; I cried like a baby more than once yesterday afternoon. A very loud, wailing baby who realizes she is finished with the Best Job Ever and must now return to lame stuff like school. Before I move forward with school, I must look back on some...
2007 Omaha Royals Highlights
Well, when I got to this point in the post, I got about a 4-hour interruption in the form of dinner, getting a DVR box (yay!!), and catching up with old friends. This post was long enough anyway; highlights will be here tomorrowish.
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