SAN DIEGO – Coming into the 2021 season, the Padres have the third-best odds to win the World Series, something the franchise has never done. They haven’t even played in the Fall Classic in more than 20 years.
But that last run in 1998 was special for many, including outfielder Mark Sweeney.
These days, Sweeney, 51, loves playing catch with his 9-year-old son Gavin. And to be able to do it recently from where he once played for the Padres makes every throw extra special.
“I’m like, ‘Gavin, that’s where I used to play.’ He’s like, ‘Yeah yeah,’” Sweeney said. “It’s nostalgic for me, to have him know what we were doing and where you came from and experiences you had.”
Sweeney played four of his 14 MLB seasons in San Diego. He had three stints with the Padres. And in much of that time, he knew the now demolished Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley as home.
“A lot of great memories,” he said. “A lot of great opportunities to watch spectacular players. The greatest experience for me as a player was performing, and also to be a fan of the guys you’re playing with.”
One of the great experiences of his career came on the 1998 National League champion Padres. The team won 98 games, running away with the NL West and then defeating the Astros and Braves en route to a World Series where they ultimately were swept by the Yankees.
Sweeney had the final at-bat of that season against a lights-out Hall of Famer.
“Everything was going through my mind because it was Mariano Rivera on the mound,” he said. “Every step I took, because there was two outs when I was walking up to the batter’s box, I said ‘I’m not striking out’. I didn’t strike out, but I made the last out of the World Series. That’s not something I’m excited about.”
He goes on: “And then I go out to the parking lot and my whole family is there so my mom and dad come in, and we embrace. And My mom says to me, ‘I’m so proud of you for making the last out.’ It was really sweet of her, but the wrong time.
“So I looked at her and said, ‘Mom, I love you to death, but now is not the time.’”
Then there was that time he saw Barry Bonds crush the longest home run he’d ever seen — a 482-foot blast during a 2002 game — at Qualcomm.
“I was on the bench,” Sweeney said. “And (Dennis) Tankersley tried to blow a fastball by him and (Bonds) hit it, and hit the scoreboard. All of us walked out to see how far it went. We were all amazed how far you could (hit) a ball like that.
“It’s the farthest ball I have ever seen hit, by far.”