COURTESY PHOTO

News

Faith before fame for slugger Mike Sweeney, speaker at Omaha banquet

Baseball fans would know Mike Sweeney, especially Kansas City Royals fans.

Sweeney was a slugger, a five-time All Star who was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2015.

These days he works for the Royals as a special assistant to baseball operations, developing players into leaders, mentoring them on and off the field.

But there’s much more to Sweeney than baseball.

“Being a baseball player is simply what I did,” the 49-year-old said in a telephone interview from his home in San Diego. “It’s not who I am. … Although I do know it was a great platform that God gave me.”

When Sweeney is genuinely living his Catholic faith, he said, his deepest identity is being one with God.

“It’s kind of like St. Paul (Galatians 2:20), ‘It’s no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives within me.’”

“When I’m going to daily Mass and I’m receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, when I’m receiving the sacraments, especially confession, and living in a state of grace, then God has the ability to live through me.

“When I live out of pride, people see me. But when I live out of humility and virtue, they see Christ. I try to fill up with Christ so that they may see more Christ than they would see me.”

Sweeney, using his platform of baseball fame, will be talking about faith, family and baseball in Omaha on Aug. 23 as the featured speaker for the Thomas More Society’s 12th annual Omaha banquet at the Scott Conference Center, 6450 Pine St.

The event begins with a 5 p.m. social hour, followed by the dinner and program at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets are $80 and can be purchased at https://thomasmoresociety.org/12th-annual-omaha-banquet/.

“Mike Sweeney’s faithfulness to God makes him a perfect fit for the Thomas More Society celebration,” said Lauren Piller, development director at the nonprofit public interest law firm, which has a mission of restoring respect in law for life, family and religious liberty.

“I’m just really excited to come back to Omaha,” Sweeney said. “As a young boy, one of my favorite movies to watch with my family was ‘Boys Town.’ When I first came to Omaha in 1996, shortly before I met my beautiful wife, I loved going to Boys Town for Mass.

“I love the Catholicity of the city of Omaha,” he said. “I really have a special place in my heart for Omaha, with its proximity to Kansas City.”

As Sweeney was being interviewed by phone, his family – which includes his wife of nearly 20 years, Shara, and their six children, ages 18 to 2½ – was starting to eat breakfast and prepare for a Mass celebrating his parents 51st wedding anniversary.

As his children filtered in, Sweeney was trying hard to protect an omelet specially made for his wife. But ultimately he failed.

“I made you guys a big bowl of scrambled eggs there, but you already started. Just eat it, bud,” he could be overheard saying to one of his children.

“I’m sorry,” the father said, returning to the phone call.

Sweeney himself was the second oldest of eight children raised by his parents in Ontario, California.

“My parents were the greatest parents that a young boy could ask for,” he said.

“I was brought up in a wonderful home, surrounded by wonderful Catholics and a great community,” he said.

When he went off to play professional baseball at age 17, he brought a bag of clothes, some baseball gear and a Bible he’d been given on confirmation day.

“That’s when my life took off,” Sweeney said. “I fell in love with Jesus even more through reading the Scriptures.”

While playing rookie ball in Florida, he said, he met a Cuban-American priest from a nearby town who mentored the young Sweeney, changing his life.

The priest would pick Sweeney up at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast before two morning Masses, one in Spanish.

The priest was like a saint, Sweeney said, an answer to his parents’ prayers, particularly his mother’s, “to provide me an angel who could help me get to heaven.”

The greatest gift God has given him is his Catholic faith, Sweeney said.

As a mentor, Sweeney works with Kansas City Royals players, as well as with the organization’s minor league teams, including the Omaha Storm Chasers.

“My hope is that I can impact them to be great baseball players, but my greater hope is that I can help them to become greater men,” he said.

“One of my favorite things to do is be with a guy, mentor him and see him hit a home run,” he said.

“But the greatest mentoring experiences … were taking guys to Mass with me and seeing tears roll down their cheeks, being home in a Catholic church. … or when a guy’s going through a tough time in his marriage or with his family and praying a decade of the rosary together … meeting a guy in his hotel room at one in the morning, just talking through the struggles of life.

“Those are the mentoring experiences that I’ve enjoyed the most.”