By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — The two Royals players who have had their numbers retired — George Brett and Frank White — will be there.
Joining them will be former Royals Jeff Montgomery, Joe Randa, Al Fitzmorris, Mike Boddiker, Tom Bergmeier and Emil Brown. And for good measure, former Kansas City Chiefs running back Tony Richardson will also be on hand.
And, oh yes, a guy named Sweeney.
Future Royals’ Hall of Famer Mike Sweeney is now devoting his life to winning young souls.
Last year, Sweeney spearheaded the first Catholic Baseball Camp in his new hometown of San Diego.
This year, the camp is coming to the Kansas City area on June 4-6 at the Mid-America Sports Complex in Shawnee, Kan. in partnership with the CYO of Johnson and Wyandotte Counties.
Registration is limited to 150 boys aged 8-15, and is open to youth of all faiths. Information can be found at www.catholicbaseballcamp.com or www.cyojwa.org/catholicbaseballcamp.html
Forget the game-winning home runs he hit before 40,000 people. Forget the five All Star Game appearances.
Sweeney said this is his biggest thrill in baseball.
“The greatest thing I have ever done on a baseball field is run the Mike Sweeney Catholic Baseball Camp,” Sweeney told The Catholic Key.
And he is doing it for the same reason that he agreed to answer Bishop Robert W. Finn’s call for him to lead the Forward in Faith campaign that will build St. Michael the Archangel High School in Lee’s Summit and help secure the future of Catholic education throughout the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
He is convinced that he is called to use whatever measure of celebrity he has attained to share the treasure of faith that he has been given.
“Our business motto is: ‘Using the greatest game ever played to share the message of the greatest story ever told,’” Sweeney said. “It is amazing to impact kids for eternity while playing the game of baseball.”
In 2002, Mike Sweeney hit a home run in the bottom of the 13th inning to beat the St. Louis Cardinals as a packed Kauffman Stadium went nuts. One year later, with two outs and two strikes on him in the bottom of the ninth, Sweeney blasted a double into the gap to drive in the tying and winning runs in a win over Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants, also in front of a packed Kauffman Stadium.
But that was nothing compared to what he witnessed last year in San Diego.
“I’ll send you a picture of a kid going to confession in the middle of a baseball field,” he said. “The thing you don’t see in the picture is there are 10 kids lined up behind him. There are also two more priests with 10 or 12 kids lined up, ready to go to confession.”
And it wasn’t just the kids, Sweeney said.
“Grandparents came. Parents, uncles, aunts. And lives were transformed,” he said.
“We had Jewish kids. We had Evangelical Christians. We had Catholics. We had kids who had never been to church before come to this camp. It was the most amazing thing.”
Sweeney said that he had adults tell him after the camp that they were returning to the church.
“Parents and grandparents went to confession for the first time in 25 years,” he said. “I know one couple whose kids went to the camp, they went to Mass for the first time in 20 years.”
That’s what he’s all about these days — finding and saving souls, Sweeney said.
“There’s a set of twins out here in San Diego and their father left them,” he said.
“I talked to them about a Father in heaven who will never leave them. Their lives are impacted. They had never been to church before, but now they are in love with God, they are praying, and they are making the Sign of the Cross on the soccer field, the baseball field and the basketball court,” Sweeney said.
There is also the best friend of Sweeney’s own son.
“His dad put him to bed one night, and saw that he had the ‘Hail Mary’ and the “Glory Be’ taped to his headboard,” Sweeney said. “He asked his dad, ‘Daddy? Can I become Catholic?’”
Sweeney said that Mike Sweeney Catholic Baseball Camp is teaching both the fundamentals of faith and the fundamentals of baseball, under the supervision of an All Star cast.
And yes, longtime Royals fans, one of those instructors is named Nettles — not Graig, the third baseman for the Yankees with whom the Royals battled ferociously for American League Championships some 30 years ago, but Graig’s younger and better looking brother Jim who had his own major league career, most notably with the Minnesota Twins.
Jim Nettles is also the father of Shara Nettles Sweeney, and Mike Sweeney’s father-in-law.
Also joining the coaching staff will be Mike Sweeney Sr., whose been a baseball coach for decades with a protégé who shares his name.
Sweeney said his baseball camp and the diocesan drive for Catholic education are both about reaching out to the young.
“These baseball camps that I am doing, they are changing lives,” he said. “And I know what Bishop Finn is doing is changing lives. So I want to be a small piece to a great puzzle that is going to change lives for an eternity.”