Posted Saturday, April 22, 2006 by JOURNAL NEWS
Game didn't end till 2:01 AM.


Sweeney rewarded for pursuing his dream
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(Original publication: April 23, 2006)

SAN DIEGO 2 For a ballplayer, the legs are usually the first thing to go. Sometimes it is the arm.

The last things to go are the dreams.

Thirty-one is when most players are either in the prime of their careers, or working in advertising or some other profession they couldn't have imagined when they were young, confident and first started riding the buses in the minor leagues.

San Diego reliever Brian Sweeney is that age. And the veteran of several summers playing on Westchester's mounds, the son of a retired 35-year veteran of the Yonkers Fire Department, reported to spring training as a non-roster invitee with his dream still intact.

Over 1,000 minor-league innings against just 23 2/3 in the majors since 1996 would have eroded it for most. But Sweeney wouldn't give it up, convinced there could be nights for him like Friday 2 when he was the winning pitcher in San Diego's 2-1, 14-inning victory over the Mets, a game that saw Carlos Delgado flailing away helplessly at his stuff.

It was pushing 2 a.m., in Yonkers and all points east, but father Ed was watching, as were his sisters and brothers-in-law.

Sweeney said wife Connie was asleep, but she insisted, "That's not true ... I was dozing off, but I woke up and saw he won."

All the bus rides, all those fast-food joints and all those motels 2 no four-star places with all-night room service in the minors 2 were worth it for the dozen or so congratulatory calls that came yesterday morning for his second major-league victory.

Sweeney joked about the time difference, but turned serious as he sat in a chair in front of his locker in a Petco Park clubhouse big enough to take infield practice on.

"I appreciated every one of them," he said.

The competitive rush from that game, and every one he pitches in, he said, "was worth the effort. I never questioned if it was worth the effort. I questioned if I had the ability."

Twice, he said, he did consider quitting. The first time was in 2000, the year his mother, Phyllis, died and nothing seemed to excite him anymore.

The second time was last winter, when he played ball in Venezuela for three months.

"It's easy to question yourself when you're alone in a hotel for that long," Sweeney said. "You have a lot of time to look in the mirror and think, 'Am I going in the right direction?'

"It was my wife who convinced me to keep playing. She gave me a kick in the butt and told me not to feel sorry for myself."

The tough encouragement wasn't without love, she said.

Connie thought of the nine years they spent together in the minor leagues, how fleeting a baseball career is, and how they still had their lives ahead of them.

"I've been through it all with him," she said. "I always believed in him. I know how driven he is. I know he's meant to play baseball. I told him never to give up on his dreams."

A graduate of Stepinac High and Mercy College, Sweeney has wanted to play since he was 5. Scout Tom McNamara discovered him by accident in 1996 when he saw him pitching for a team from Rockland.

Sweeney was supposed to try out for an independent minor-league team, but McNamara convinced him not to go, that the Mariners would draft him.

When the call never came, Sweeney went back to Rockland, but McNamara showed up later that summer and promised he'd find him a job somewhere.

That would be with the Lafayette Leopards in Indiana for $500 a month. Sweeney went 6-0 in nine games and eventually was drafted by the Mariners.

He wouldn't be able to spend major-league meal money for seven years, but he won his first decision in 2004, beating Arizona's Randy Johnson.

The two met the next day, the same day Sweeney was sent down to the minors because Jake Peavy came off the disabled list.

"He told me not to give up, and 'to not let them take your dream away from you.' "

No one ever will.

Mets notes: An MRI showed no structural damage to Carlos Beltran's sore right hamstring. Beltran was not in the lineup and was listed as day-to-day. ... San Diego's Mike Cameron was to be activated from the DL today to play in the outfield where he had a horrific collision with Beltran and sustained multiple facial fractures last year. The former Met said he didn't think that would be on his mind today. "I'll have too much adrenaline to think of things like that," Cameron said. ... Victor Zambrano (1-1, 9.00) will make his third start of the season today.