By VICTOR FLORES
It didn’t take long for Mike Sweeney to return to the Kansas City Royals.
Sweeney, 43, spent 13 of his 16 MLB seasons in Kansas City, retiring in 2010. In February 2014, he was hired as a special assistant to baseball operations. In August, he’ll be inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame.
This week, Sweeney made his second trip to Idaho Falls in two years to help coach the Idaho Falls Chukars.
Royals’ baseball operations assistant for player development Chris Getz, hitting coordinator Bill Springman, pitching coordinator Larry Carter and baserunning, bunting and outfield coordinator Milt Thompson joined Sweeney in Idaho Falls this week.
The Post Register sat down with Sweeney on Friday to discuss his duties this week and the end of his playing career.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
His duties this week
“I’m here for three and a half days. I’m really here to help speed up the process for these young prospects to get from Idaho Falls to Kansas City. I’m here to teach them, encourage them, kick them in the rear, pat them on the back and hopefully use my experiences of 16 years in the major leagues and 20-plus years in professional baseball to make that process happen.”
Specific advice he’s given to the Chukars
“Some it is, ‘Try to slow the game down, have fun, enjoy the moment.’ Some of it’s more mechanical stuff, working on hitters in the cage, game awareness, telling DJ Burt, ‘Hey, you should’ve already had your helmet and spikes on in the eighth inning to pinch run. You’ve gotta be ready. Expect that.’ These guys are young, they don’t have the experience of guys like me. It’s our job to help teach them, and it’s a joy.”
The Chukars who have impressed him
“I really like (outfielder Amalani) Fukofuka. Last year I saw him play. He’s a young kid with a lot of talent, and he’s starting to believe and put it together. To see Roman Collins hit his first professional home run (Thursday) night, being a walkoff… I actually got a ball, doctored it up and presented it to him before stretch today. That’s my job. Put a smile on their faces. Help them remember these days because there are only about 4,000 people on the planet that can say they play minor league baseball today.”
The 2010 NLDS with the Philadelphia Phillies
“My last at-bat in the big leagues was against (Cincinnati Reds reliever) Aroldis Chapman in the playoffs. First pitch: 103 (miles per hour). Second pitch: 103. Third pitch: 102. Thankfully, I got a nice line drive into left field for a base hit. I finished my career the right way.” (This was the only postseason plate appearance in Sweeney’s career)
On facing Chapman
“No once throws the ball like him. It’s a different level. You don’t see it. The only time you might see it is if you go to the batting cage, crank up the pitching machine as fast it will go and stand 30 feet away from the machine. That’s the only time you’re going to see something that fast.”
On his final MLB game: Game 6 of the 2010 NLCS against the San Francisco Giants
“I felt the spirit of God inside of me saying, ‘Hey, this is it. You just played your last game.’ I put my head down. The Giants are running out on the mound, cheering and celebrating. I feel a tap on my shoulder. I look up and it’s (Giants reliever) Jeremy Affeldt. He goes, ‘Hey man, I just came over to tell you I love you and congratulations.’ It shocked me. He was a 21 year-old kid in the big leagues when he came up. I was a veteran, and I mentored him. Really neat. That was my last moment in the big leagues, and one I’ll never forget.”
BUTLER RETURNS TO I.F.
Oakland Athletics first baseman/designated hitter Billy Butler spent this week’s MLB All-Star break in Idaho Falls.
Butler played 74 games for the Chukars as an 18-year-old in 2004, batting a Pioneer League-best .373.
But Butler’s ties to Idaho Falls go deeper than the Chukars. He met his wife, Katie Hansen, in 2004. Hansen, a Skyline High School graduate, worked at the hotel where Butler lived while playing for Idaho Falls.
Butler was called up to Kansas City in 2007, but Idaho Falls was still embedded in his mind. He lived there in the offseasons from 2007 to 2011.
Butler, 29, now lives in Arizona.
Other than meeting Katie, Butler’s favorite memory in Idaho Falls was when the 2004 Chukars clinched their first Pioneer League playoff spot since 2000.
“I made lifelong friends on that team,” Butler told the Post Register Saturday.
CHUKARS’ ROSTER MOVES THIS WEEK
July 15: Right-handed pitchers Brooks Pounders (Pittburgh’s 2009 second round MLB draft pick) and Josh Staumont (Kansas City’s 2015 second round pick) were promoted from the Arizona League Royals to Idaho Falls. Pounders, who pitched 15 innings for the Chukars last season, made one start for Idaho Falls this week on a rehab assignment.
July 16: Kansas City released left-handed pitcher Carlos Herrera (organization decision). Herrera, 22, posted a 9.45 ERA with 10 walks and eight strikeouts in 20 innings for Idaho Falls this season. The San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic native was picked up as an undrafted free agent in 2012.
RHP Derek Gordon
Gordon has pitched 10.1 combined innings in his last two starts, giving up one earned run and striking out seven in each outing. His ERA has fallen from 5.65 to 4.01 in that span.
SS Marten Gasparini
Gasparini has three hits in his last 20 at-bats (he’s drawn two walks in that span, as well). Gasparini’s season batting average is .218, and he leads the Pioneer League with 46 strikeouts