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Even I didn't think the season would effectively end this quickly. Back in spring training I wrote about my unhealthy allegiance to the Kansas City Royals. Already 2-11 and riding a nine-game losing streak, the Royals may be lucky to lose fewer than 106 games, the franchise record they set last year.

Now, I promise not to write all my columns about the worst franchise in all of professional sports. But I couldn't miss this opportunity to write about my favorite ballplayer, Mike Sweeney. Back in the 2000, the Royals designated hitter slugged 29 home runs and knocked in 144 runs. That earned him a five-year, $55 million contract. His career batting average tops .300.

Yet stats aren't the only reason I root for Sweeney. When the Royals visited Wrigley Field a few years ago, Sweeney and I chatted a few minutes before the game about our shared faith in Jesus Christ. He signs all autographs with his #29 and Romans 10:9 ("[I]f you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.") In more than 10 major-league seasons, he has become widely known as an all-around great guy and outspoken, devoted Catholic.

There must be many moments as a professional athlete when Sweeney falls back on that foundation of faith. And I guess now would be one of those times. Sweeney, the captain, is not exactly exempt from the team's failures this year. He's hitting .135 (5 for 37) with only one home run. Before Easter he joked, "You're purified by the fire, and resurrection is coming. That's what I'm waiting on."

This five-time all star is too good to be true. And that's the problem. You see, Sweeney has grown tremendously unpopular among Royals fans. The hometown Kauffman Stadium crowd ...

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April 2006

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