By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Future Kansas City Royals’ Hall of Famer Mike Sweeney has lived a life full of thrills and challenges.
And he is always ready to take on one more.
When Bishop Robert W. Finn asked Sweeney to serve as chairman of the Forward in Faith campaign to support Catholic education and faith formation, and construct, quite appropriately, St. Michael the Archangel High School in Lee’s Summit, Sweeney didn’t have to think it over.
“I want to pledge my 100 percent support to my friend, Bishop Robert Finn, and the work he is doing in Kansas City,” Sweeney told The Catholic Key.
“I am proud to lock arms with him to support Catholic education and the building of St. Michael the Archangel High School,” he said.
Sweeney also urged Catholics in every corner of the diocese to sign onto his team.
“Would you please join me and Bishop Finn in bringing the gift of joy to others? They need our help,” he said.
Clearly, Sweeney didn’t have to do this. Nearly two years after he officially retired from baseball and signed a one-day contract to retire as a Kansas City Royal, Sweeney could live a quiet life with his wife, Shara, and their two sons, Michael James and Donovan John, and daughter McKara Lynn.
But then, he wouldn’t be honoring the single greatest influence in his life — Jesus Christ.
Yes, Sweeney said, he’s had some thrills. In the 2000 season, he came within one RBI of winning the American League runs batted in title, nevertheless shattering the Royals’ record at 144, which still stands.
Two years later, Sweeney came within 9 points — just a couple of hits — of winning the AL batting average crown.
He has also played on five American League All-Star teams and, when his playing days were over, was further honored when the Royals established the Mike Sweeney Award, given annually to the Royal who best represents the Royals on and off the playing field.
Yes, those are thrills, Sweeney said. But nothing compares to his biggest thrill, which happened even before the Kansas City Royals took a 10th-round flyer in the 1991 draft on a big high school kid from Ontario, Calif.
“People often ask me what was the most joyful day of my life,” Sweeney said. “Was it signing million-dollar contracts to play major league baseball? Was it playing baseball on TV or hitting a game-winning home run in front of 40,000 people? How about buying a new sports car? Was it playing on five All-Star teams?”
Forget it, Sweeney said.
“The most joyful day of my life was in 1990 when I got on my knees at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Chino, Calif., and realized that there is a God who loves me, forgives me, and wants have a friendship with me,” he said.
“He loved me so much, he died on a tree to prove it,” Sweeney said.
If Jesus gave him so much, then how can he not give 100 percent in return, he said, especially if it helps others experience the joy he has in Christ.
“To this day, I have never felt the overwhelming joy as I did that day as a teenager,” Sweeney said. “Without the treasure of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church, my life would be empty.”
The Forward in Faith campaign has five goals:
• Financial support for local parish ministry programs.
• Grant programs for parish schools of religion and youth ministry.
• Financial support for St. Pius X High School in Kansas City, north, and Bishop LeBlond High School in St. Joseph.
• Educational assistance to families in need through the Bright Futures Fund.
• Construction of St. Michael the Archangel High School, the first new diocesan high school since 1964.