Mark Sweeney is eager to get back to work as a television studio analyst for the San Diego Padres on Fox Sports San Diego.
This will be the ninth season with the National League club for the former University of Maine All-American center fielder.
The season has been on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a financial skirmish between the players and management that kept the season from starting until an agreement was reached on Tuesday.
Training camps open on July 1 and a 60-game regular season will begin on July 23 or 24. That will be followed by the playoffs with five teams from each league.
Sweeney, a former major leaguer, said the owners and players didn’t do themselves any favors with their financial battles.
“I don’t blame fans for being upset at the sport. From a negotiation standpoint, it was embarrassing for both sides,” Sweeney said. “I don’t think we have all the information but this is not a good time to have the two sides fighting like this because people have lost their jobs and because of all the social unrest.”
The long delay caused by breakdowns in negotiations could prove costly in the long run.
Major League Baseball players went on strike on Aug. 12, 1994, and never finished the season. Play resumed in 1995, but the average attendance dipped by an average of 6,219 fans per game.
Sweeney said the players have to take the game to another level and put on an entertaining show this summer to minimize the damage and win the fans back.
He recalled a speech by broadcaster Jack Buck after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in which he told players how important it was for baseball to create a diversion for Americans and help them heal.
“Now we have to find a way to heal the world, not just the United States, and baseball needs to be a part of that. All sports need to be a part of it,” Sweeney said.
The 50-year-old Sweeney owns the major league career record for pinch-hit runs batted in (102) and is second in pinch hits (175). He played in 1,218 career games.
He said broadcasters must bring the game to the fans on a personal level to enhance their experience.
Fans won’t be allowed in ballparks, so they will have to watch on television or computer or listen on the radio.
Sweeney said that with only 60 games, each will be like a playoff game and it should bring out the intensity in the players.
A number of new rules also have been introduced. Among them, the National League will join the American League in using the designated hitter for all games.
Games that are tied after nine innings will start with a runner placed on second base.
Sweeney called himself a baseball purist who doesn’t normally like change, but he said he supports alterations given the short schedule.
Adopting the DH in the National League was inevitable, Sweeney said, but it wouldn’t have aided his career.
“I wouldn’t have been on a roster for 14 years,” said Sweeney, who played on seven different NL clubs.
The man on second rule is designed to avoid long, extra-inning contests.
“But there is going to be an ugly finish to a lot of games,” he said.
Sweeney likes the idea of piping in crowd noise during games because it will help the players stay focused.
“It’s much easier to play in front of 50,000 than it is in front of 1,000,” he said.
He is concerned about the coronavirus but believes Major League Baseball has had ample time to put the necessary safety restrictions in place. He also said that injuries are a concern because players haven’t been able to stay in game shape.
Sweeney has two step-daughters [Jaden, Kendall] who are beach volleyball players and an athletic 8-year-old son [Gavin] with wife Cindy. He has been using his spare time productively.
He and his former agent, Barry Axelrod, developed a podcast called “Major League Beginnings” in which former big-league players talk about the first time they were called up, their first hit or first victory and other firsts in their careers. They also discuss players or coaches who were influential to them.
It will also expand to people involved in the game who weren’t players.
“There are a lot of great stories,” Sweeney said. “We want to show that they are normal people.”
Padres studio host and broadcaster Mike Pomeranz also joins the podcast. Last week’s first episode featured former major leaguers Larry Walker, Nick Swisher, Dontrelle Willis, Sean Casey and New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone.
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is the featured guest on the second podcast.
Sweeney said fans can access the podcast on Apple, Google and Spotify for free.