CEDAR RAPIDS – Ryan Sweeney made it through his speech just fine Thursday afternoon.
He was one of several speakers at a Veterans Memorial Stadium press conference announcing significant progress in fundraising for the Prospect Meadows Ball Fields baseball and softball complex outside Marion.
The Chicago Cubs outfielder – an honorary co-chair on the project’s fundraising steering committee – took regular sips of water out of a bottle while waiting his turn to speak. He also yawned a lot, though it wasn’t a case of boredom.
Myer Joseph Sweeney was born January 2, and, as many babies do, has his own schedule going. It’s one that leaves Ryan and his wife, Tasha, extremely tired.
“I don’t know if you saw me up there yawning the whole time,” Sweeney said. “No, I’m not getting any sleep.”
No sleep but some baseball security. The 28-year-old Xavier High School graduate signed a two-year, $3.5-million contract with the Cubs in the offseason, with a third-year option.
Considering he didn’t know who he was going to spring training with about a year ago at this time, the deal is comforting. Sweeney ended up signing a minor-league deal with the Boston Red Sox late last winter, but failed to make the team and was released.
The Cubs picked him up and sent him to Triple-A for awhile, where he tore it up and earned a promotion to Wrigley Field.
“Seeing where I was last year at this point, and now being here this year at this point, it’s a different spectrum,” Sweeney said. “Last year, I was fighting for a job. This year, I’m obviously still going into spring training and act like I’m fighting for a job. But there’s a little bit more security for the next couple of years knowing that I’m hopefully going to be in Chicago and staying there for a long time.”
Sweeney impressed the Cubs with his defensive versatility and solid left-handed stroke. He hit .266 with six home runs and 19 RBIs in 70 games for them, missing two months after cracking his rib running into the outfield wall during a game at Seattle.
It was just the latest in a long line of injuries that have hampered him during a career in which he has played in the major leagues in parts of eight seasons. Sweeney is a career .278 hitter.
“I’m great,” he said, when asked about his health. “Other than the broken rib, which was a freak injury, I was perfectly fine last year. This offseason, everything has been great. I’m healthy and ready to go.”
Sweeney – who will head to Arizona next week to prepare for spring training – sold his condominium in Cedar Rapids and moved to the Chicago suburbs, but Thursday’s appearance shows he’s not turning his back on his hometown. Not in the least.
He and fellow former big leaguer Cal Eldred are lending significant hands to get Prospect Meadows built. They both have made fundraising calls and donated money to the $9.4-million project, which will include 17 fields built on 121 acres of land northeast of Marion, just south of County Home Road and east of Highway 13.
Prospect Meadows Inc. president Jack Roeder, former general manager of the Cedar Rapids Kernels, said his group has raised $2.6 million of the $4.2 million needed in the “public phase” of the capital campaign. Transamerica Corporation provided a lead gift of $300,000, while Hall and Hall Engineers Inc. has contributed $400,000 and Perfect Game USA baseball club of Cedar Rapids $600,000.
The complex will be used for Perfect Game-hosted events approximately 60 percent of the time. Roeder said the hope is “we’ll be moving dirt” sometime this year, with the complex open for business in 2016.
“When I was asked to be a part of this project, it was an easy decision to say yes,” Sweeney said.
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