YONKERS, N.Y. – A Yonkers native is set to bring his fastball to the world stage.
Brian Sweeney was selected to play for team Italy in this spring’s World Baseball Classic, a 16-team tournament held every four years that brings together the best players from various countries around the globe.
Sweeney, whose Major League pitching career includes stops in Seattle and San Diego, said representing the Italians in March will be a great opportunity.
“I still remember my big league debut, my first strikeout,” he said. “But I see this as being one of the coolest things I’ve done.”
Despite being born in the United States, Sweeney was eligible to play for Italy in the international tournament because his great-grandparents on his mother’s side emigrated from the European country.
In March, Sweeney and team Italy will be in Phoenix to begin the tournament’s preliminary group play. There, they will face off against the United States, Mexico and Canada -- teams that feature the likes of Mets third baseman David Wright, former Yankees catcher Russell Martin and All-Star Joe Mauer.
“I think this is going to be an incredible experience overall, whoever I get to pitch against,” Sweeney said. “It’s a grand stage and an incredible opportunity to help a good team try to win a ballgame.”
The 38-year-old righty grew up in Yonkers playing little league baseball with the North Yonkers Boys & Girls Club. A standout player at Archbishop Stepinac High School, Sweeney later went on to pitch at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry.
In 1996, Sweeney was signed as an undrafted free agent and eventually made his Major League Baseball debut in 2003 with the Seattle Mariners. Since then he has made various stops around the league and even left the country for a three-year stint in Japan.
Most recently, Sweeney, who now lives in Clifton Park, N.Y., signed a minor league deal with the Mariners for the 2013 season, his 18th in professional baseball.
In a career that includes many memorable experiences, including pitching in Yankee Stadium, Sweeney said taking the mound at the World Baseball Classic will rank among the top.
“To represent Italy on this stage, when there’s not baseball in the Olympics, it’s definitely pretty cool,” he said.
Sweeney said his wife will likely make the trip to Arizona for the tournament and he is hopeful other friends and family members, including his father, a retired lieutenant in the Yonkers Fire Department, may also attend.
“Having family and friends there would be very cool, especially from the Italian side of my family,” he said. “Because I am not only representing Italy here, I am representing my family.”