SAN DIEGO, Calif. — As a utility man who played for seven different major league teams in a 14-year career, it was important for former University of Maine All-American center fielder Mark Sweeney to study the game and be ready at all times.
That’s why he is second all-time in the major leagues with 175 pinch-hits. Only Lenny Harris has more (212).
Sweeney has used that knowledge to remain involved in the game.
After a three-year stint working with the Los Angeles Dodgers, assessing players throughout the organization on talent and character, he is in his second season as the San Diego Padres’ studio pregame and postgame television analyst for Fox Sports San Diego.
He works 120 of the 162 games.
Sweeney also served as a color analyst for six games a year ago and will fill in for 25 more this season with renowned play-by-play man Dick Enberg.
He also serves as the dugout reporter for a three-inning stretch during games.
“He is a natural. He does a wonderful job,” said former Minneapolis TV news anchor Mike Pomeranz, Sweeney’s broadcast partner on the shows.
Pomeranz said in addition to having a charismatic personality, Sweeney is a tireless worker who sets himself apart by explaining the game thoroughly to the viewers so that even those who aren’t that knowledgeable can understand the game’s nuances.
Sweeney said when he speaks, he envisions that he is speaking to a “grandfather with his grandson on his lap.”
He said his career as a role player/pinch-hitter “required me to be a sponge.”
“That’s what kept me in the game. I was like a second or third bench coach. I had to watch different things [closely]. I had to see how the catcher was catching the game and I had to see what the pitcher was doing mechanically,” said Sweeney. “I had to watch and learn. It was to my benefit, as it is now.”
He is thoroughly enjoying his gig and said he has been blessed to have Pomeranz as his partner.
“Mike is a talent and a great friend. We’re very close. He made my transition as easy as possible. It has been so much easier to do my job. He has been my security blanket,” said Sweeney.
Sweeney said the job came about unexpectedly.
He was in spring training with the Dodgers in 2012 when he was approached by Fox Sports San Diego about becoming a studio analyst. He met with their representatives for a couple of hours and the next day he was offered the job.
“I had a pretty good job with the Dodgers. [General manager] Ned Colletti and his staff afforded me the opportunity to pick up a lot of knowledge and they gave me a lot of freedom,” said Sweeney. “But I felt I had to take this opportunity. I called my wife [Cindy] and she said, ‘Do it.’”
He said he became emotional telling Colletti about his decision but Colletti told him there would be a job for him with the Dodgers organization if things didn’t work out.
The new job also meant he would be able to spend more time with his family, since the Dodgers job took him out of town 15 days a month during the season.
Sweeney and his wife, who is a fitness expert with her own TV show, stepdaughters Jaden, 13, and Kendall, 9, and toddler son Gavin live in Rancho Sante Fe, which is 23 miles from San Diego.
“[Accepting the job] was a no-brainer,” said Sweeney, who called his family the “loves of my life.
“My family is my top priority,” said Sweeney.
His first season behind the mic was challenging as they had one-hour pregame and postgame segments. They have been condensed to a half-hour each this season.
“Talk about jumping into the fire,” quipped Sweeney. “But it was a good learning curve.”
Filling in as a color analyst in his first season was yet another challenge.
“It was all new. It was scary, exciting and kind of emotional. I said, ‘What have I gotten myself into? I don’t want to screw this opportunity up.’ It was awesome to be a part of,” said Sweeney.
The fact he has been given 25 games this season proves he passed the test with flying colors. He wants to continue to develop as a broadcaster and studio analyst and see where it takes him.
Sweeney considers himself fortunate to have had the opportunity to play with players including Barry Bonds, Ozzie Smith and Larry Walker and to learn from them.
He understands that he is expected to project a positive spin from a Padres perspective but he doesn’t shy away from pointing out mistakes made by the Padres, either.
“My main objective is to bring respect to the game,” said the 43-year-old Sweeney.
The Holliston, Mass., native was pleased to hear that former University of Maine baseball coach John Winkin is being inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame later this month in Lubbock, Texas.
“It’s exciting,” said Sweeney, who noted that Winkin, former assistant Mike Coutts and his teammates all played positive roles in his development.
Fundamentals were always stressed at Maine and Sweeney, a ninth-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Angels, was able to compile a 1,218-game major league career through his execution of fundamentals, offensively and defensively.
Now he is executing behind the microphone.