Like many athletes, Craig Sweeney, an outfielder for the University’s baseball team, has been playing the game since he could only hit the ball off of a tee. However, as a senior in his fourth season with the Hawks, Sweeney has far surpassed his little league level skills.
“I’ve played baseball ever since I was five years old when my dad got me into it and I just loved the game right away,” said Sweeney. “Once I got to about middle school, that’s when I knew I wanted to continue playing in college.”
Dean Ehehalt, head coach of the University’s baseball team, said that Sweeney’s greatest strength is his offensive skills. He added that his experience as a ballplayer has contributed to not only his success, but the team’s success. “He’s a hungry player, a very good offensive player, an explosive player; He has the potential to be a game changer,” Ehehalt said.
Unlike many students, Sweeney did not have a difficult decision with choosing a college. Deciding to be a Hawk seemed like an obvious choice to him. From Middletown, NJ, he said that the location and close proximity of the University were ideal. Sweeney added that he was familiar with some of the players on the team before his freshman year as well. However, Sweeney said the ultimate reason he decided to play at MU was, “because they definitely gave me the best opportunity to play and they have a winning tradition here.”
Sweeney’s career thus far at the University can best described as a an upwards line.
In 2012, he hit .288 with four RBI’s in 28 games, 17 of which he started. In 2013, his average was .284 with 29 RBI’s in 48 games, 47 of which he started. This season has produced Sweeney’s highest batting average in his collegiate career thus far at .343 in 28 games, all of which he started.
Not only does he lead the team in batting average, but he also holds the number one spot in slugging percentage (.505), on base percentage (.409), RBI’s (21), home runs (3), and total bases (50).
“We coach him in practice; he does what he’s supposed to. He takes ownership in developing his skills and I just let him play in the game. We trust him in the game to do his thing,” Ehehalt said of the outfielder’s success and leadership.
With great talent and success comes great obstacles, and Sweeney has faced quite a few of them. Throughout his baseball career he has sustained about 10 injuries. Three or four of them required surgery. His senior year of high school was book shelved with injuries. In the beginning of the year, the outfielder hurt his shoulder and at the end of the year, he injured his foot. The latter injury required three surgeries and still continues to cause the outfielder problems.
“He’s not 100 percent but he still works through it, never complains, just plays,” said Ehehalt. “I think that’s important as we move forward. It’s a testament to him that he’s been able to overcome some really bad injuries and contribute the way he does.”
Like most college athletes, Sweeney’s future in baseball is uncertain. While a player can work hard and play well, the ability to move forward with an athletic career after graduation from college is out of their hands, according to Ehehalt. “That’s something that college kids don’t control,” he said. “That’s under the control of someone else, whether somebody selects them or not.”
According to a report released by the NCAA, only 9.7 percent of collegiate baseball players become professional. This does not mean they make it to the 30 Major League Baseball teams, but instead, it means that they end up somewhere in the 30 teams’ farm systems.
“As far as this year goes I would like to see him go out a winner, I would like to see him have a really good second half of the year and finish strong and be the best person he can be, and in a couple years, be the person that he’s supposed to be based on what he’s done up to this point,” Ehehalt said of his outfielder.
What motivates Sweeney to finish the season strong is the game itself. He is driven by the desire to bring his team the most success possible.
“Whatever the situation is, if there is nobody on [base], nobody out, my goal is to get on base. If there are runners on base, my goal is to move them over or drive them in and play defense, keep the ball in front of me; get to every ball I can,” explained Sweeney.
Ultimately, he strives to bring home a championship for the Hawks. “That would definitely be a proud moment,” said Sweeney. “Individually I’ve had a couple of games obviously that were memorable, but I’d like to have a championship.”
While Sweeney plays his fourth season with the Hawks, Ehehalt said that he has seen much improvement, mentally and physically. He shows his dedication by playing every day, never making excuses for himself.
Though Sweeney has had some big moments on the field, Ehehalt has high hopes that the best of his career will be seen in the future. “Hopefully his most defining moment is yet to come. Hopefully we haven’t seen his greatest moment yet,” Ehehalt concluded.
PHOTO COURTESY of Jim Reme