Some pitchers are said to have a rubber arm. Pitcher Brian Sweeney, however, might be made entirely of rubber as he has kept bouncing back to the Mariners’ organization ever since they signed him as a non-drafted free agent in 1996. He played at several levels of the system from 1997 to 2003, before being traded to the Padres. His next appearance with Tacoma and Seattle was in 2010, after spending time with San Diego’s major and minor league system, along with three years in Japan (2007-09.) He played with the Somerset Patriots in the independent Atlantic League last year, as well as in the Mets’ minor league system. Now he’s back in Tacoma, where he’s being used mostly out of the bullpen. Tacoma Weekly’s baseball writer Karen Westeen caught up with Sweeney recently, to find out about his life in and out of baseball.
TW: You’re quite a world traveler. Where did you start out?
BS: I was born and raised in Yonkers, N.Y., and graduated from Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
TW: Where do you live now?
BS: My wife and I and our two daughters live in Clifton Park, N.Y.
TW: Your daughters are in school right now. Will your family be here during the summer?
BS: Yes, they’ll be here as soon as school is out.
TW: You’ve spent time with a couple of teams in independent leagues. What’s the difference between those and MLB teams?
BS: The biggest difference in playing indie and being on an affiliated team is that there are more opportunities to get to the major leagues with an affiliated team and of course the perks are not as great, but it makes you work harder.
TW: What was it like being in Japan for three years?
BS: We all have fond memories. It was a good time for us as a family. I had never been there before. The culture and people were wonderful, same for the food. I have nothing but praise.
TW: The team you played on, the Nippon Ham Fighters, has a name that many people don’t understand. Just to clear that up, you weren’t fighting ham, but were sponsored by the Nippon Ham company.
TW: How did they do those years you were with them?
BS: We went to the Japanese World Series two of the years, but didn’t win the series either year.
TW: When you were with the Mariners in 2003 you got to make your Major League debut. Describe that.
BS: It was in relief against Boston. I remember the run in from the bullpen was nerve-wracking. Damian Jackson was the first Major League batter I faced. I threw him two balls, then got him out on a ground ball to third on the third pitch. It was a fast ball. I was able to breath after that first out and I thought now let’s go to work.
TW: In 2004, after going to San Diego, you finally collected your first Major League win. Talk about that.
BS: It was against Randy Johnson. I talked to him the next day in the weight room and he had some good things to say about it. I also had to face him as a batter, and I saw why he was a legend. I went 0-for-4.
TW: Have you been to the postseason?
BS: Yes, San Diego played St. Louis in 2006 and we were eliminated in the first round, but that was a very cool experience.
TW: You’ve been both a starter and a reliever. Which do you prefer?
BS: That’s a tough call. I like to know when I’m getting dressed that I might work (as a reliever) that day, but I also like the routine of a starter. It’s a high-risk, high-reward position.
TW: Do you have a different mindset for each?
BS: It depends on the day. I try to stick to my game, my strength. As a starter I might have to throw a few more fastballs but you still have to get outs.
TW: Do you use the same outpitch for both?
BS: Yes, all my pitches have to be outpitches. I use my changeup a lot.
TW: Is it easier to come in when you’ve been sitting in the bullpen watching the batters for a while?
BS: Absolutely. You get the vibe of the game, see how the hitters are reacting, see how the runners steal, where there’s a chance for a pickoff.
TW: Were you surprised when you were signed again by Seattle this year?
BS: A little bit. At 37 people are viewing me a little bit differently. I don’t think they should. I feel good, I can still get outs. That’s why I went to winter ball, and pitched for Mariner coaches. I was hoping they’d give me another opportunity.
TW: Now that you’re 37 do you see yourself as another Jamie Moyer?
BS: I got to play with Jamie in 2003, got to pick his brain. We have similar styles. I learned a lot from him and from Miguel Batista when I was with the Mets’ organization last year. Age is just a number, and seeing these guys continue to succeed gives me hope. I’d love to play until I’m about 41.
TW: What have been the highlights of your career so far?
BS: Well I’d say the call up to the M’s in 2003. That gave me an amazing sense of satisfaction. And going to the Japanese World Series twice, even though we lost both times. Then coming back to Major League baseball in 2010 with the M’s when no one expected it of me.
TW: What about plans after your baseball career ends?
BS: My Plan A is if I think about the next step I should probably hang up the cleats, so I just focus on the task at hand.
TW: What do you like to do during the offseason?
BS: It’s all about the kids. I’m a huge family guy. We do everything together. I do play the guitar, and I like being in the outdoors, even just raking leaves.
TW: How would you describe yourself?
BS: Every time I toe the rubber I like to think my manager thinks I give my team a chance to win. (After eight appearances (two starts), Sweeney’s record was 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA.)
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