Camp nears the end, in more ways than one

There is no stopping Mike Sweeney.

The 36-year-old wonder continues to act like someone much younger and at the peak of his career, going 4-for-5 and driving in the winning run in the top of the ninth inning in the Mariners’ 7-6 victory over the Rangers in Surprise this afternoon.

Sweeney is now batting .559 (19-for-34) this spring, which would be pretty darn good in a slow-pitch softball league, let alone the Major Leagues. He is still not “officially” on the 25-man Opening Day roster, but how do you keep him off?

“You can never underestimate a guy like that,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “We did have dialogue over the winter and he talked about how hard he was working and the things he was doing and how good his body felt. You look at his second half and statistically he’s pretty impressive. He keeps proving that there’s more in there.”

Sweeney might not have to wait until Easter Sunday to find out that his career will continue.

I missed the game, spending time on watching Cliff Lee play catch and Felix Hernandez to pitch in an instrasquad game on Field 3 at the Peoria Sports Complex. Not to worry, though, as sidekick T.R. Sullivan was on top of things in Surprise.

Bet you didn’t know this, but as a young pup living near Fort Ord, Calif., where his late, great father was stationed in the early 1970s, T.R. was a paperboy and delivered the San Jose Mercury-News when I was covering the Athletics and the Mustache Gang of that era.

That is worth a yikes! or two.

Tomorrow is getaway day in Spring Training. The Mariners play the White Sox at 12:05 p.m. PT and then depart for Alburquerque for two games against the Rockies before returning to the Bay Area to face the Giants on Sunday and the Athletics on Monday night in the regular-season opener.

Unless the stock market goes belly up, this will be the last full-time Spring Training day on the Mariners beat for this scribe.. An annual routine that began 38 years ago, when the A’s trained in Mesa, a dude just two years removed from trying to keep his head down during firefights in Vietnam, entered the wild and wacky world of covering Major League baseball and the first Spring Training, in 1972, included the holdout of Vida Blue, midnight “press conferences” with Charlie Finley, an orange baseball used in Spring Training (bad idea) and having all stories sent by Western Union.

It’s never good when a long story comes across as one paragraph, but it happened wayyyyy too often.

Along the way, there were such “highlights” as Catfish Hunter describing the A’s 1973 World Series ring — the only one that I know of without at least one diamond — “I had a better high school ring!”; to Barry Bonnell accusing me of being Steve Kelley in 1986, my first year on the Mariners beat; Ken Griffey Jr. driving a black BMW into the Tempe Diablo Stadium parking lot, getting out of his car and asking if I knew the phone number of the Diablo Stadium office.

It was my introduction to cell phones — and a legend in the making.

A great run it has been, to say the least.

Now, bring on the season!!!

— Jim Street


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