Archive for Thursday, April 13, 2006

The fly route

April 13, 2006

It happened on Opening Day and it happened during the second game.

It stopped after the third. Really though, it's been happening for years now.

The Kansas City Royals fans appear to be on the brink of turning on team captain Mike Sweeney and I just can't understand why.

Well, I guess that's not true. I can see why a few might boo the injury-prone slugger, but anyone that's followed the Royals -- or at least tried to -- in the last 10 years has no business booing the big man.

Kansas City signed Sweeney to a long-term contract in 2002 and after a very solid season that year -- he hit .340 and nearly won the batting title -- Sweeney dropped off after an initially strong start to the 2003 season.

After playing in at least 125 games every season from 1999 through 2002, Sweeney saw his games drop dramatically, to 108 in 2003 and 106 in 2004.

While his RBIs and home runs stayed about the same through the period, he wasn't the same player.

He didn't hit above .300 in 2003 or 2004 and barely managed it in 2005. His walks dropped from 71 in 2000 to 64 in 2003 and just 33 in both 2004 and 2005.

Sweeney went from the reliable every day horse fans could always count on in 2002, to an injury-plagued designated hitter by 2005. He seemed to have lost what made him so special: a keen eye and an impeccable batting average.

All that considered, I can understand some fans' distaste. But keeping Sweeney and making him the team's highest paid player was a necessity when it was done in 2002.

The Royals offered him the big bucks because they had to keep someone from their strong late-1990s teams. With Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye already gone without serious protest from the team, KC needed one of its young stars to stay to maintain any credibility.

Of that group, I'm convinced Sweeney was the right option, even if it takes a 2002 point of view to prove it.

Sweeney's going to have to play better, no doubt. He was hitting .269 through six games, but that's so small a sample it hardily even matters. If he rips three hits today or tomorrow or anytime soon he'll bump his numbers significantly.

Still, .269 does not a failure make. Fans seem mad that he didn't win the first two games of the season himself. He accomplished that feat in the third game, however, blasting a game-deciding two-run home run to beat the White Sox.

There's a world of problems with the Royals, even now, just two weeks into the season -- Joe Mays, has anyone seen Joe Mays? Mike Sweeney's about No. 96 on the list of those problems.

At least he's healthy -- be thankful he didn't break his hand Tuesday in New York. At least he's playing. At least he's driving the ball.

Will a stretch of good luck health-wise and Kansas City's stock piling of first basemen insuring Sweeney never fields a ball guarantee a return to form? Fans can only hope.

But who else do you want there? The options were Damon or Dye, both of whom most Royals fans hate for leaving the team and being the anti-Sweeney.

Ken Harvey?

Some random AAA lifer destined to never make it in the bigs?

Boo me if you want, but I'll take Mike.

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