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Sweet to attend Gwynn's Hall of Fame induction

 

Last updated 7/26/2007 at Noon



Mike Sweet, a 1987 graduate of Fallbrook High School, will be missing his 20th anniversary reunion July 28. Sweet, who is now Director of Baseball Operations for San Diego State University, will be in Cooperstown for the Baseball Hall of Fame induction of the man with whom he shares an office.

“It’s a thing I couldn’t pass up. It’s a rare occasion,” Sweet said. “It’s something that you’ll never, ever forget.”

Tony Gwynn’s actual induction ceremony at Doubleday Field will take place the morning of July 29. Sweet will leave today and return July 30. He will be staying in Albany, and tomorrow night he will be involved with a San Diego State University Alumni Association function in Albany. The visit to Cooperstown will be Sweet’s first, and Sweet plans to visit the actual Hall of Fame museum Saturday.

“When I saw the date of the reunion, I just laughed,” Sweet said. “What timing.”

Gwynn spent 20 years with the San Diego Padres and retired with eight National League batting titles, a .338 career average, and 3,141 career hits. Sweet’s Fallbrook High School baseball career consisted of one appearance as a pinch-runner in 1987 when Dave Heid was the Warriors’ baseball coach.

Sweet is 5’5” and weighed about 120 pounds when he was in high school, so he knew that an athletic career wouldn’t entail playing. He was the team manager for Fallbrook High School’s football and baseball teams.

Sweet also appeared in one game with the 1986 football team which would eventually win the CIF championship. The Warriors had a large lead in a non-league game against Ramona (ironically, his pinch-running appearance was also against Ramona), and Sweet was inserted into the game as a free safety. He made a tackle during his only playing appearance.

His appearance in that game resulted in a newspaper article, and Steve Fairchild, who at the time was the quarterbacks coach of San Diego State University, asked if Sweet would be willing to serve as a student manager at San Diego State. Sweet accepted the offer and remained with San Diego State’s athletic department after his graduation.

His limited playing time on the Warrior football and baseball teams made him eligible for awards. He received the DeNormandie Award as the football team’s most inspirational player and was named to the Palomar League’s all-academic baseball team.

Before he obtained his bachelor’s degree in Public Administration in 1993, Sweet served as student manager of San Diego State’s football team from 1987 to 1992. That time included the first two years of Marshall Faulk’s collegiate career as well as teams with future pros Dan McGwire and Darnay Scott.

The only former Fallbrook High School teammate on the San Diego State football team was Scott Barrick, who was the Aztecs’ quarterback in the late 1980s before transferring to Palomar College. Warrior teammate Bill Dunckel also attended San Diego State, where he played on the baseball team, and Fallbrook’s Rich Fox ran on the track team.

As a senior at San Diego State, Sweet received a Hitachi Promise of Tomorrow scholarship. He minored in physical education, noting that the administrative and personnel aspects would become more relevant than the physical aspects.

After his graduation he served as a student assistant in the university’s football office, where he worked with special teams and helped coordinate the program’s recruiting efforts for 1993.

In February 1994 Sweet became the school’s assistant student-athlete affairs coordinator, where his duties included overseeing incoming student admissions, assisting student-athletes with housing and financial aid, and monitoring student-athlete academic improvement.

In 1998 he became the school’s recruitment and student-athlete affairs coordinator, a position he held for four years until accepting his current position. He handled admissions, on-campus housing and other new student affairs and also worked on academic compliance.

In May 2001 San Diego State University baseball coach Jim Dietz announced that he would return for his 31st season in 2002 and then retire. Gwynn expressed a desire to become Dietz’s replacement, and a month later Gwynn announced that he would retire as a player at the end of the 2001 season. Gwynn served as an assistant coach under Dietz in 2002 before taking over as the Aztecs’ head coach in 2003.

When Gwynn sought a Director of Baseball Operations, he checked with Dietz and assistant coaches Jay Martel and Rusty Filter. The coaching staff recommended Sweet, who applied for the job and was picked by Gwynn.

At that time it was expected that Gwynn would eventually be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. “We’ve talked about it ever since the day after he retired,” Sweet said.

In January Gwynn received the necessary 75 percent of the Baseball Writers of Association vote – the actual figure was 97.61 percent as 532 of 545 ballots included Gwynn’s name – in his first year of eligibility. “It is very real,” Sweet said of Gwynn’s Hall of Fame status for 2007.

“It has been a little different this year. His schedule’s a little more hectic,” Sweet said.

As Director of Baseball Operations, Sweet handles the administrative management to allow Gwynn to focus on being a field manager. In his position Sweet is not allowed to recruit players, although he is allowed to talk about the school and baseball program with potential players visiting San Diego State or inquiring over the telephone. Once players are enrolled at San Diego State, Sweet follows their academics and helps ensure that they attend class.

Sweet travels with the team and splits his time between an office, dugouts on the road, and the press box during home games. When the Aztecs are on the road, he is on the bench during the games compiling statistics. During home games he works with the video operations; he doesn’t use a camera himself but captures footage of batters and pitchers for the coaches and players to review.

Sweet and Gwynn share an office. Initially their office was in Tony Gwynn Stadium (Gwynn was a baseball and basketball star at San Diego State prior to his professional baseball career), although they are now in the athletic administration building.

“It’s been great. He’s a very great, genuine man and he’s a very caring man,” Sweet said of Gwynn. “Everybody’s treated equally with him.”

Gwynn’s status as a baseball star allows for tolerance of losing seasons at San Diego State and has given Gwynn the luxury of doing things right rather than doing things right away. “I think it’s starting to pay off,” Sweet said.

Gwynn’s election to the Hall of Fame may buy more time for long-term building, although San Diego State fared well during the early part of the season. “Season went well. We played well. We swept UCLA,” Sweet said.

In addition to the three-game sweep over UCLA March 16-18, the Aztecs also defeated Michigan March 10 at Petco Park as part of the Tony Gwynn 2007 Classic, defeated fifth-ranked Fullerton February 20, and won one of three games against 21st-ranked USC in February.

The Aztecs also lost 13 of their final 15 games and finished the season with a 28-29 record.

Although Gwynn and Sweet strive for winning, they consider a major purpose of college baseball to be getting student-athletes ready for the next level. Nine of Gwynn’s 2007 players – two seniors and seven juniors – went into professional baseball.

That total is nine more than the number of Aztecs lost to academic ineligibility. During the fall 2006 semester the Aztecs had a team grade point average of 2.7, and while that declined somewhat during the spring semester all players still remained academically eligible. “We’re working hard on that,” Sweet said.

Gwynn’s son, Anthony, is the first Aztec under Tony Gwynn to reach the major leagues. In 2008 Gwynn will likely coach two more sons of major league players, Cory Vaughn and Zach Babbitt. Vaughn’s father, Greg, played with Gwynn on the Padres from 1996 to 1998.

Sweet hopes that Fallbrook High School alumni will still contact him despite his absence from the reunion. “I’d love to hear from people,” he said.

“Your reunion’s special, that’s for sure,” Sweet said. “But I can never pass this up.”

Sweet hopes to visit Fallbrook High School in the near future. “You’re always fond of where you came from,” he said.

“Fallbrook’s close to my heart,” Sweet said. “I still have fond memories.”

Sweet has stayed in touch with Dunckel, who is now the varsity baseball coach at Valley Center High School, but he admitted that he hasn’t stayed in touch with Heid or many of his Fallbrook High School classmates.

Although he will not be present at the reunion, Sweet hopes that the reason for his absence will alert alumni to his presence at the San Diego State University athletic department and encourage them to get in touch with him. “People can always call me,” he said.

 

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