Happy 39th birthday to former Padres reliever Brian Sweeney. "The other other Sweeney", as Gaslamp Baller Nater Tater referred to him, pitched for San Diego in parts of two seasons sandwiched between two stints with Seattle. His long and winding career is an inspirational story of perseverance and belief in one's self.
Undrafted out of both high school and tiny Mercy College, Sweeney latched on with the Lafayette Leopards of the short-lived independent Heartland League for the 1996 season. After going 6-0 with a scant 2.20 ERA, he was signed by the Mariners organization. He put in nearly six years working his way up the ladder to Seattle before making his major league debut in late 2003, pitching impressively in five games before being sent to San Diego along with Jeff Cirillo for Wiki Gonzalez and others.
Upon joining the Padres organization, Sweeney was assigned to AAA Portland to begin the 2004 season. He performed well and got the call up to the big club on June 16 when Antonio Osuna was placed on the DL. Sweeney made two relief appearances in garbage time before getting his first major league start on June 29. Despite picking up the win while allowing one run on four hits over 5.1 innings, Sweeney was sent back to Portland the next day. He remained in AAA until the September roster expansion and found his way into four more games.
Allowed to walk as a free agent following the season, Sweeney signed with Tampa Bay. He was assigned to AAA Durham and was released after a month. The Padres snagged him back up and he spent the rest of the year with Portland. Sweeney made a major league roster out of spring training for the first time in 2006 and had his most productive season, pitching 56.1 innings over 37 games for the division champs. Sweeney won two games without picking up a loss, and saved two others while posting a 3.20 ERA.
A free agent yet again, Sweeney inked a deal with the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan's Pacific League. This is the point where I'm practically obligated to break the fourth wall, look into the camera Fresh Prince-style, and clarify that the team is named the Fighters and they were sponsored by Nippon Ham-- not, as some believe, a team in Nippon named the Ham Fighters. He spent three seasons pitching decently and not fighting ham before he returned to the states, signing with the team it all began with, the Seattle Mariners.
The 2010 season found Sweeney back in his old stamping grounds of Tacoma for the first time since 2003. He performed admirably and earned a mid-season callup. His solid performance continued with Seattle and he spent the rest of the year in the majors, going 2-1 with a 3.16 ERA in 37 innings of work. Despite this, he was placed on waivers after the season and picked up by Arizona.
Sweeney was on the move again in 2011. Released by the Diamondbacks after spring training, he hooked up with the Mets after one game with Somerset of the independent Atlantic League. Following the season in Buffalo, he found himself back with the Mariners and has spent the last two seasons in, yes, Tacoma. He has gone 7-1 this season with an ERA under four after competing for Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Few have stuck with it as much and fought their way back as many times as Brian Sweeney. Before I started writing this I didn't even know he was still at it, but knowing what I do now I'll be keeping an eye on him, rooting for one more comeback. I can't think of anyone who has worked harder to deserve it.