His veteran presence and the promise of Sweeney returning to form were the main reasons why Oakland signed him to a Minor League make-good contract on Feb. 10, just days before camp opened.In his own cosmic style, Sweeney showed up at A's camp across the way in Papago Park with the pitchers and catchers on Feb. 14, nearly a week before the position players were scheduled to report. The extra swings in the batting cage provided the foundation for his fast start when the games began this past Thursday. "The whole thing with me now is just staying healthy," Sweeney said. "And right now, I feel great. If I can continue that and leave the last two years behind me that wouldn't be too bad." Largely because of injuries, the A's are going through a youth movement with only shortstop Bobby Crosby and second baseman Mark Ellis assured of giving the club a veteran presence in the starting lineup. Third baseman Eric Chavez, out now for five days after taking an epidural in his back, may not be there when the Opening Day bell rings. Thus, they could use Sweeney's influence more than ever. "That's how I've always been. That's how I'll always be until someone rips the jersey off my back," Sweeney said about his leadership characteristics. "I think we can surprise a lot of people here in Oakland." Of course, he knows there are no guarantees. The A's break camp on March 19, and head to Japan to open the season against the defending World Series champion Red Sox, March 25-26. That leaves a little less than three weeks for Sweeney to prove that he's a keeper. But his attitude is positive, he said. And hanging above his locker just to prove it are the "Optimist's Creed" and a tiny silver-tandem bicycle hanging from a red ribbon. Sweeney says he just sits there on the back seat pedaling, while God and destiny sit in the front seat and set the direction. "I'll leave [my chances of making the team] up to the guys in the front office," he said. "I just play baseball. If I'm healthy and I play the game the way I know I can, then at the end of the day, something good will happen."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less