SEATTLE -- During the past two months, Mike Sweeney did some research on one of the best medical research facilities in the world and he now has a better understanding of what the Hutch Award is all about. Sweeney learned on Nov. 15 that he would become the 43rd recipient of the Hutch Award, and the official coronation occurred Wednesday afternoon in front of nearly 800 spectators during a luncheon under royal blue skies at Safeco Field. The presentation capped a two-day trip back to the Northwest for Sweeney, who tormented plenty of Mariners pitchers during his 13 seasons with the Royals.
But this journey was about beating another opponent -- cancer. "It has been like taking a drink of water from a fire hose," said Sweeney on what he has learned about the facility. "My eyes have been opened and I'm a bit awestruck by the personnel that make up the Hutchinson Center. It is one of the finest medical facilities in the country and to be part of it is a blessing, to say the least." The Hutch Award is presented annually to the MLB player who "best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire" of the late Fred Hutchinson, a former Major League pitcher and manager from Seattle. He died of cancer in 1964 and his brother, Dr. Bill Hutchinson, founded the Hutchinson Center, a world-renowned cancer research facility that Sweeney visited on Tuesday afternoon. "I work out and go to church regularly with a couple of previous Hutch Award winners, Mark Loretta  and Trevor Hoffman ['04], so I pretty much knew what this award is all about," Sweeney said. "But it's different when you actually go to the Center. The research being done there is amazing." A five-time American League All-Star, the 34-year-old Sweeney has been active in Kansas City's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program, and also started the Sweeney Family Foundation, which encourages people of Catholic faith to work with youth and families through a variety of urban-outreach missions, including youth baseball camps. "I have always done my best on the field, but what I do off the field is just as important," he said. Sweeney has battled injuries off and on since 2002 and he missed most of the 2007 season because of knee problems. But his efforts on behalf of charitable organizations never diminished, and the end result was him receiving an award that previously has been given to 11 Hall of Fame players, starting with Mickey Mantle in 1965. The award typically goes to a player that has overcome adversity in his professional or personal life. "I have done some research on the Hutch Award since learning [on Nov. 15] I was the 2007 recipient," Sweeney said during a pre-luncheon reception at the Diamond Club at Safeco Field, "To have my name associated with the names of previous winners is very humbling." Hutch Award winners include Sandy Koufax ('66), Carl Yastrzemski ('67), Willie McCovey ('77), Willie Stargell ('78), George Brett ('80) and Paul Molitor ('87). Besides the Hall of Famers, there are 11 former American or National League Most Valuable Players and seven World Series MVPs. While Sweeney has been none of the above during his successful big league career, he is regarded throughout the sport as one of the classiest individuals to play the game. On the field, he has compiled a .299 career batting average with 197 home runs and 837 RBIs. Off the field, Sweeney's batting close to 1.000. "To receive the Hutch Award is an amazing honor for me," he said. "It's one of the best things that can happen in a baseball career. I feel very proud to be part of the Hutch Award tradition." Funds raised during Wednesday's Hutch Award Luncheon and silent auction benefit The Gregory Fund for early cancer-detection research at the Hutchinson Center. The Gregory Fund was established in 2003 as a collaboration of the Hutchinson Center and The Moyer Foundation, founded by Major League pitcher Jamie Moyer and his wife, Karen. Moyer received the Hutch Award in 2003. Sweeney, an unsigned free agent who spent his entire 17-year professional career with the Royals, has battled back problems and other ailments since 2002. He underwent knee surgery this past season and was limited to 74 games. He returned to action on Sept. 1 -- perhaps one day too soon for Twins pitcher Scott Baker. Entering the game in the ninth inning as a pinch-hitter, Sweeney delivered a one-out single that ended Baker's no-hit bid. Sweeney says he has foiled no-hit bids before during his career, "but never that late in the game."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.