Mark Sweeney takes his time getting there, whether it was to the altar or his next job.
“I got married when I was 40,” he said.
Not long after, he took a job that came out of the blue.
Sweeney, now 43, was born in Framingham, and put together a stellar athletic career at Holliston High. He went on to become one of the most successful pinch hitters in baseball history over a 14-year career in the majors, playing for seven National League teams.
After he retired in 2008, like a lot of ex-players, Sweeney wanted to stay in the game. He took a job as special assistant to Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, who also hired former Boston Red Sox players Bill Mueller and Aaron Sele.
Sweeney was living in San Diego, where he had played for the Padres in three separate stints. The team was putting together a new TV deal last year and aligned with Fox Sports San Diego. Getting on-air personnel had to be done quickly, with Fox preparing to start its spring training coverage.
In the market for a former player, Fox reached out to Sweeney. He was in a Dodgers meeting when he received a call from his agent that Fox wanted to talk. The deal was struck.
“I didn’t even audition,” said Sweeney. “They were giving me a chance, but my boss said, ‘if [you’re bad], we'll get rid of you.’ ”
Sweeney looked forward to the challenge. “I felt comfortable enough. Telling Colletti I was leaving was the hardest part.”
A year later, Sweeney has settled into his role as a TV guy.
“He’s very good,” said Sweeney’s play-by-play partner, the legendary Dick Enberg. “It helps that he played. He knows the game.
“I’m afraid we might lose him’’ to another team, Enberg said. “He's that good.”
Sweeney, who handles the Fox station’s shows before and after Padres games, added, “It sure helps having Enberg next to me.”
In innings three through five, Sweeney sits next to the San Diego dugout and provides Enberg and analyst Mark Grant with on-the-field observations.
Sweeney lived with pressure as a pinch hitter. The pressure now is “if you say something on the air you can't take it back.”
Ex-players who go into broadcasting often find it awkward interviewing players.
“I love doing the one-on-ones with them, but I don’t feel good enough about it yet,” said Sweeney. “You need to earn their respect. You have to be honest and understanding.
“I try to be available in the clubhouse so the players can voice their thoughts, but I don’t stay too long.”
If a full-time color analyst position was offered, he’d jump at it.
“I’m just learning as much as possible now. If the opportunity comes, I’ll be ready.” Just like pinch hitting.
Sweeney was back in Boston for the Padres-Red Sox series last week. When he was starring at the University of Maine (he was recruited to Orono to play football, as a quarterback), he played in two college all-star baseball games at Fenway Park. (The university will retire his No. 12 in a ceremony on Oct. 18). But he only played there as a big leaguer when he was with the Giants in 2007.
Sweeney lobbied manager Bruce Bochy to put him in the lineup.
“I told him it was my first time playing at Fenway,” he recalled.
Bochy said OK, but when Sweeney checked the lineup that night, his name wasn’t on it. About an hour later, Ryan Klesko told Bochy that his back was hurting. Sweeney got the start at first base, hitting second in the order.
The leadoff batter was Dave Roberts, who is forever linked with the Red Sox for his stolen base against the Yankees in the 2004 playoffs.
“When Roberts got up, the crowd went crazy,” said Sweeney. “He walked, and I drove him in with a double to right-center. I’m standing on second base and the only ones clapping for me were my family and friends.”
Sweeney, who played on Holliston High’s state championship baseball team in 1987, has the second-most pinch hits (175) in Major League Baseball history, and the most RBIs as a pinch hitter, 102.
Boston general manager, Theo Epstein, “wanted me to come to Boston in 2004,” said Sweeney, “but I went back to the Rockies.”
The Red Sox went on to win the World Series that season.
The left-handed-hitting Sweeney hit his first home run off Hideo Nomo of the Dodgers, managed by Tommy Lasorda. “As I rounded third Tommy was shaking his head like ‘who is this guy?’ ”
Sweeney and his wife of three years, Cindy, have a 20-month-old daughter and two step-children, Jade, 13 and Kendall, 9, from her previous marriage.
“My life just gets better and better,” he said. “I’m blessed.”Lenny Megliola can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.