01/16/09 11:58 PM EST
Royals Awards Dinner emotional for all
Sweeney, reunited with old club, receives night's top honor
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
First, his infant son, Donovan, born on Dec. 19, had to undergo emergency surgery for an internal blockage on Jan. 8. Then last Monday his 4-year-old son, Michael, was having breakfast when he had a grand mal seizure and was rushed to the hospital for treatment. Michael was discharged, but, again on Friday morning, he had another seizure.
Sweeney was in Kansas City. His old ballclub, the Royals, had named an award for the former captain. Sweeney was to present it at the renewal of the Royals Awards Dinner on Friday night.
Should Sweeney have rushed back home to San Diego to be with his son and wife Shara? Finally, he got word that Michael again had been discharged and was doing all right.
Sweeney stayed and, much to his surprise, was presented at evening's end with the Mr. Baseball Award -- the top honor of the event.
The award is named for Ewing Kauffman, founder of the Royals and the team for which Sweeney played 13 years and served as captain.
"It's been a really hard week," Sweeney said, choking up as he accepted the award.
He shared the troubling experiences with the crowd of 400, which gave him a standing ovation at the Sheraton Overland Park Hotel.
"It's hard because I was ready to leave this dinner and jump on a plane and head home for my wife and my kids because they need me," Sweeney said. "But my wife told me, 'Honey, the Royals need you to be there tonight to give your award. You can just come home in the morning.' "
Earlier, Sweeney presented his award to Everett Teaford, a left-handed pitcher for Class A Wilmington as the player who best represents the organization on and off the field.
He thought his evening was over. Now he could greet some folks and think about getting home to Shara, Michael, Donovan and daughter McKara.
But then Julia Irene Kauffman, who presented the Mr. Baseball Award, told the audience: "We could think of no greater example of service to the game and the community," and called Sweeney's name.
Was he shocked?
"Did you see my face?" he said afterward.
Sweeney, in addition to his long service with the Royals, was been deeply involved in community and charitable works in Kansas City.
"I feel like I don't deserve to receive such an awesome award," he told the crowd. "I'll tell you this: This has been a tough week, but the love you guys showed me tonight and the honor being here have made my night a lot better."
Sweeney, who spent last season with the Oakland A's, is hoping to play again this year.
His award was the only one not previously announced. The Royals honored Mike Aviles as their top player, Joakim Soria as the top pitcher and Zack Greinke for special achievement.
"It's been a long road but it's definitely worth it," said Aviles, who battled through six years in the Minors before finally reaching the Royals last season.
Soria dedicated his trophy to his wife Karla. Greinke thanked his teammates for their help all season.
There were nine other awards named for former players or organization leaders.
"It feels a little funny to be making a presentation in your own name," longtime scout Art Stewart admitted in making his award to scout Dan Ontiveros.
Willie Wilson, the ex-Royals burner, gave the baserunning award to Wilmington's Derrick Robinson who stole 62 bases and remarked with a smile: "I haven't seen 60 bases since I was here."
Kansas City's first baseball awards dinner since 2001 was a spirited and snappy affair, played out in front of a blue background on an elaborate stage.
There were videotape highlights of the Royals' first 40 years of play, featuring players from Lou Piniella to George Brett to Steve Balboni to Bret Saberhagen to Aviles.
It was a time for Hot Stove topics on a cold winter night. As manager Trey Hillman commented: "At the table I'm sitting at, we've already got the lineups worked out from Opening Day to the playoffs."
For Mike Sweeney, it was a night for a huge surprise, to honor a young player and something else.
"It's great to be home," he said.
2009 Royals Awards Dinner winners
Ewing Kauffman Mr. Baseball Award for an overall contribution to baseball in the Kansas City area: Mike Sweeney, former Royals captain.
Les Milgram Player of the Year: Shortstop Mike Aviles.
Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year: Closer Joakim Soria.
Joe Burke Special Achievement Award: Starting pitcher Zack Greinke.
Matt Minker Award for an outstanding affiliate employee: Chris Kemple, general manager of the Wilmington Blue Rocks.
Art Stewart Award for an outstanding scout: Dan Ontiveras, Southern California scouting supervisor.
Dick Howser Award for an outstanding member of player development: Brian Rupp, manager of the Burlington Bees.
Mike Sweeney Award for a player who best represents the organization on and off the field: Everett Teaford, Wilmington pitcher.
Willie Wilson Base Runner of the Year for the organization's top base runner: Derrick Robinson, Wilmington outfielder.
Frank White Defensive Player of the Year for the organization's top defensive player: Jeff Bianchi, Wilmington second baseman.
Paul Splittorff Pitcher of the Year for the organization's top pitcher: Daniel Cortes, Northwest Arkansas pitcher.
George Brett Hitter of the Year for the organization's top hitter: Kila Ka'aihue, first baseman for Northwest Arkansas, Omaha and KC.
Dan Quisenberry Special Achievement Award for an outstanding member of the community: Patti Lewis, founder and director of a perinatal hospice.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.