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Brian Sweeney at Yankee stadium

Posted Wednesday, June 30, 2010 by Lohud.com
Highlights: Traded to Padres, 2004. ... Beat Randy Johnson 3-2 in his first major-league start, June 29, 2004. ... Set career highs in games (37) and innings (56 1/3) in 2006 with Padres. ... Earned first career save May 7, 2006. 

Yonkers' Sweeney finally comes home

 

BY SAM BORDEN • JOURNAL NEWS COLUMNIST • JUNE 30, 2010

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NEW YORK — In the middle of his first spring-training game for the Nippon Ham Fighters a few years back, Brian Sweeney ran to the mound, picked up the ball and looked around. This was exciting for him, his Japanese baseball career about to begin. He was fired up and eager except — and this was kind of weird — he was out on the field all alone. No catcher. No infielders. No outfielders. No hitters. Even the umpires were nowhere to be seen. All the rest of his teammates were still in the dugout and when Sweeney finally looked in their direction, they waved to him to hurry back to the bench.


 

"Turns out that, in Japan, they do like a YMCA thing with cheerleaders on the field in the fifth inning every game," Sweeney said. "It's a big deal, kind of like an intermission during the game. It's also when some of the players can go smoke a cigarette."

Sweeney had no idea about the "fifth-inningcelebration" and, when he asked why an in-game smoke break was, you know, necessary, he was told that it's just the way the Japanese do it.

"Why?" he said. "Don't ask why. That's why."

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This was a common refrain for him during his first year in Japan. Why do players have to bring their suitcases to the park a day before the team leaves on a road trip? Don't ask why.

Why do players get dressed in their hotel rooms and then bus to the ballpark in uniform? Don't ask why.

Why is there no postgame meal in theclubhouse? Why do teams always keep the interior lights on during bus rides, even at 1 a.m. when it'd be nice to try to sleep? Don't ask why.

Why, and this is one he'd still like to know, do teams in the Central League keep their startingpitchers a secret until just before the game starts, forcing some players to act as "decoys" and stretch on the field as though they're going to pitch that day even when they're not?

"The manager would come up and say, 'Sweeney-san, today you're going to be a decoy,' " Sweeney said. "And at first you're like, 'What? Why?' " Don't ask why.

Yonkers' Sweeney finally comes home

 

BY SAM BORDEN • JOURNAL NEWS COLUMNIST • JUNE 30, 2010

 
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Standing in front of his locker in the visitors' clubhouse at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, Sweeney laughed. He could go on and on about the differences between the baseball cultures in Japan and the United States — "you know there are no bathrooms on buses in Japan?" he said. "Guys had to go in water bottles" — but the most enduring aspect of his three years in Japan was what it did for his pitching.


 

After playing in 49 games for the Mariners and Padres from 2003-06, Sweeney took a guaranteed contract from Nippon and was forced to hone his breaking pitches to succeed. Now 36 years old, he has overcome a difficult final season in Japan and worked his way back to the majors as a long reliever for the Mariners. On Tuesday, he was in the bullpen for his big-league game in New York — a special occurrence since it meant he was able to have lunch with his dad at his family home in Yonkers before coming to the ballpark in the early afternoon. "This thing has been going off all the time," he said, pointing at his cell phone. "I've been getting texts, calls — I think there'll be 50 to 100 people in the stands. It's really amazing."

Even more when you consider what Sweeney went through to make the Mariners roster. After putting up a 5.32 ERA and 1.66 WHIP for Nippon in 2009, he couldn't find a team in Japan that wanted him.

It was the same thing when he tried to get a job in the U.S. There was nothing, not even a minor-league invite to spring training. "I knew I was going to play baseball this year," Sweeney said, "we just didn't know where."

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Quitting was never an option. He did his own spring training at home in upstate New York, throwing to high school kids and getting his arm in shape for the season he was determined to have. In early April, he signed a deal with the Somerset Patriots, an independent league team in New Jersey.

"I was there for two days," he said, "before the Mariners called." They had a Triple-A spot available and Sweeney began packing before he hung up the phone.

He was called up on June 15 and, after going unused for 11 straight days, threw four scoreless innings to earn the win against the Brewers on Saturday. He hopes he'll get in during the three-game series here, to be sure, but is more than happy just to be back in the majors.

"Why was it a bad year last year? I don't know," Sweeney said. "It just ended up being a down year for me and I had something to prove to myself. I knew I wasn't done."

He wasn't. On Tuesday, just before the Mariners began stretching on the field, Sweeney saw a few friendly faces already in the stands and waved. Twice before he'd been close to playing at home — once with the Padres and once previously with Seattle — only to be sent down and miss the trip.

Now, after 14 years and a three-year trip to the other side of the world, he was finally here. New York. For a kid from Yonkers, it was nice to be home.

 
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Reach Sam Borden at sborden@lohud.com.

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