Sweeney bringing renewed relentlessness to outfield
Outfielder builds bat cave in attic after record winter snowfall in Chicago
MESA, Ariz. -- Ryan Sweeney bought a home in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, not knowing he'd have to deal with the coldest winter in 30 years and third snowiest on record. He needed to hit, so he created a bat cave in his attic.
The Cubs outfielder could go to a nearby facility or use the home gym he added to his home, or he could simply head upstairs and take advantage of a batting tee and net he installed on the top level of his new house.
It's not as if he had to clear storage boxes or holiday decorations before he could take some swings. The area is finished and carpeted. The roof isn't high enough for a golf simulator, which was the original plan, but there's plenty of space for him to hit off the batting tee.
Instead of a man cave, Sweeney has a man attic.
"I have the basement, too," he said. "I have up there and the basement, and [wife Natasha] has the rest of the house."
The Sweeneys' other addition this offseason was son, Myer. Didn't all the hitting wake him up?
"No, it's a four-level house and he was downstairs and couldn't hear it," Sweeney said.
Hopefully, Sweeney's season goes as smoothly.
He joined the Cubs last April 3, signing a Minor League deal after he was released by the Red Sox. The left-handed hitting outfielder was promoted on May 6, and batted .266 in 70 games. However, he missed two months because of a broken rib suffered when he crashed into the outfield wall on June 29 in Seattle. Sweeney can't promise that he'll avoid contact with walls this year.
"I'm going to go after the ball if I can catch it," he said. "All the times I've hit a wall, I've caught the ball. If I hit the wall and didn't catch it, it would be pointless. I'm not going to try to avoid it, but definitely having one year playing at Wrigley under my belt and hitting that brick wall, I'll probably be a little safer sometimes. I think the whole mentality is you have to try to stay on the field the whole year and not worry about one play. It's hard to take it out of you to not go after a ball hard."
He'll offer tips to the newest member of the Cubs outfield, Justin Ruggiano, who joins Nate Schierholtz and Junior Lake in the rotation. All have good arms and can cover the territory.
"We just have to learn to play with each other," Sweeney said. "I think the biggest thing with Junior being a converted infielder is knowing where other guys are and what guys can get to certain balls on the field. Obviously, he's a good athlete and he's fast and wants to get everything, but you have to know where everybody else is. You have to learn it in Spring Training, because it's tough during the season when you can't hear."
Ruggiano drove in three runs on Tuesday, hitting a two-run homer and RBI double, but most of the focus in Cubs camp so far has been on the hot prospects, including Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. The media didn't interview Ruggiano after his first home run but did when Baez and Bryant each connected.
"It's understandable," Sweeney said. "A lot of us were top prospects at one time and people are excited about them coming up to the big leagues. When they do good, it's fun for you guys [in the media] to talk about them."
Baez and Bryant are the future. Sweeney and some of the other Cubs are interested in the present, even if no one seems to think much of the current roster.
"Any team can say 'rebuilding phase' or 'we're waiting for these guys to come up,' but there's no reason why we can't win right now," Sweeney said. "We have the talent. The teams I've been on, you just have to put it all together. ... We have the starting pitching and the bullpen and the young offense that we can take it to the next level.
"We need to have a chip on our shoulder," he said. "Being the underdog isn't a bad thing. Nobody has any expectaions for you and you have to set them for yourself. If we can go out and play well, it'll be a shocker to people."
Sort of like having a batting tee in your attic.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.