When Rick Sweet arrived in Colorado Springs to manage the Sky Sox, he considered it his duty, as an American, to halt the avalanche of losing.
“To me, the American way is to win,” Sweet says. “In everything we do, we strive to win. For me, to throw winning out of the equation, it just doesn’t work.”
Winning had been thrown out of the equation. Sweet took over in 2015, a few months after The Disaster of 2014 when the Sky Sox stumbled to an exceedingly grotesque 53-91 record.
He changed the un-American culture. This summer Sweet led the Sky Sox to a rare winning record and their first trip to the playoffs in 20 seasons. From 2005 to 2016, the Sky Sox stumbled to 10 losing seasons.
This weekend, Sweet is trying to lead the Sky Sox to Pacific Coast League supremacy. The Sky Sox are leading Memphis 2-1 in the PCL semis after a 16-15 win Friday.
We’re in the twilight of Triple-A baseball in Colorado Springs. The Elmores, who own the Sky Sox, will abandon our city in a year in pursuit of more money in San Antonio. This is sad, for many reasons.
One of those reasons is we’ll lose Sweet, a wise and obsessed manager who understands that victory at the Triple-A level is as important as the ever-vague concept of development.
In Sweet’s view, most players arrive at the Triple-A level with a strong grasp of the game’s fundamentals. More teaching is needed, but that teaching should focus on the game’s deeper secrets.
The most precious secret is understanding the difference between ending a day as a loser, or a winner.
“At this level here, we need to develop winners,” Sweet said. “The last thing I want to do is send a guy to the big leagues who doesn’t know how to win. And the only way to know how to win is to have been a winner."
Triple-A is a strange beast. Over the course of the summer, Sweet was able to craft a hustling, balanced team. The Sky Sox were carried by strong, often spectacular fielding and maybe even stronger pitching.
Then the Milwaukee Brewers did what big league teams always do.
They started calling up players. This raiding explains why Triple-A teams struggle with fan loyalty. Why give your heart to a team destined to get ripped apart?
Sweet declines to complain about the raids. He’s been working in the minor leagues since 1987, and he accepts, and even applauds, the system.
“My No. 1 job is to service the major league club,” Sweet says. “Quite frankly, when I send a guy to the big leagues, that’s good for the guys here. They say, ‘Hey, I want to be the next guy.’ That doesn’t frustrate me. In fact, I use it. I’ve learned over the years, that it’s a very positive thing
Sweet will be sorry to see this season end. He was born in 1952, at the start of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first team. He’s been a part of dozens of teams.
“It’s been very satisfying,” he says of 2017. “I managed for a lot of years, and this may be the most satisfying team that I’ve had. From day one, they have been focused, played yard, come back, never quit and they continue to smile and play good baseball.”
No matter what happens in this Pacific Coast League series with Memphis, Sweet will look back at this edition of the Sky Sox with a deep, and earned, sense of satisfaction.
“We develop winners,” he says. “We’ve done that. We’ve done that already. Even if we lose, we’ve already won.”