07/16/2003 2:33 AM ET
Monkey business for Sweeney
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Mike Sweeney was physically unable to perform in Tuesday night's All-Star Game. But the Kansas City Royals first baseman nevertheless played a significant role in the American League's 7-6 victory over the NL.
Sweeney pinch-hit, in a sense, for the "Rally Monkey," the Anaheim Angels' famed mascot who was spiritually credited with the team's World Series success last year.
With the AL trailing, 6-4, in the eighth inning, Angels coach Mickey Hatcher approached Sweeney, who has been sidelined with neck and back ailments.
"He said, 'Sween-dog, you can't play, but you're gonna be our Rally Monkey," Sweeney said. "So I was the Rally Monkey."
Sweeney jumped up and down in the dugout with his hands in his armpits, mimicking Anaheim's favorite simian, and soon enough the AL put together the three-run inning that won them the game and home-field advantage in this year's Fall Classic.
"The guys were awesome," Hatcher said. "That big boy (Jason) Giambi was fired up before the eighth. He said, 'We've got all the scrubbies in here so now we can win this game.'"
"As soon as we turned Sweeney into the Monkey, it was ours."
Before the game, Sweeney might have been the most intense-looking player at U.S. Cellular Field, though he knew he wouldn't play.
Sweeney leaned against the batting cage for nearly a full hour during the AL's batting practice, occasionally chatting or joking with teammates who strolled by but usually scrutinizing each hitter carefully.
Sweeney happened to be entertaining and educating himself.
"I was just watching the best in the game," Sweeney said. "Watching guys like Alex (Rodriguez) and Edgar (Martinez) and Ichiro (Suzuki) and Nomar (Garciaparra), watching their swings and seeing if I can pick something up. I'm always trying to look for an edge."
This is typical of Sweeney, who has hit .300 for four years in a row.
"I'm not a tremendous fan of the game, believe it or not -- I'm not into stats -- but I'm a student of the game," he said. "I love to watch and try to work hard to be the best."
Right now, Sweeney is relishing that the Royals are the best in the AL Central, seven games ahead of Chicago.
"I thought it was possible (before the season)," Sweeney said of the Royals' success. "But I think the only guys who believed it were the guys in the clubhouse and (manager) Tony Pena and (general manager) Allard Baird." Referring to a challenging second-half schedule, which includes series against Seattle, Oakland and New York, Sweeney said, "We have our work cut out for us. But we're excited about the challenge."
Sweeney should know soon whether he can help the Royals meet that challenge. He's expecting to work out Wednesday in Kansas City to test his fitness. "Right now, it's kind of up in the air," Sweeney said. "But I'm symptom-free right now, so it's a matter of getting my baseball skills sharp."
The Royals' other All-Star representative, rookie reliever Mike MacDougal, did not appear in the game. But he was more than ready to do so.
"Being in the bullpen, you always have those little butterflies going while you're waiting for that call. It just didn't come today," he said. "But it was still fun to watch."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.