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Ryan Sweeney is fine with Fenway

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ryan Sweeney got his first major league at-bat and his first hit at Fenway Park.

Funny how that works. Now it's his home.

Sweeney, who was the other guy in the deal that brought closer Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox on Dec. 28, had always wondered what it would be like to play in Fenway on a regular basis. His intrigue had been stoked by numerous teammates who told him he'd be "the perfect guy to play at Fenway."

"I'm a gap hitter, and I hit the opposite way a lot," said the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Sweeney, who hits left-handed. "So being able to have that monster for 80-some games, maybe instead of having my hits get caught on the warning track, they might be hitting off that wall and turning into doubles.

"You never know. Any sort of advantage you can have going in is huge," he said. "You look at Adrian [Gonzalez] and David [Ortiz] and the way they hit -- it's kind of an advantage having it there for their opposite-field power."

Then there's the defensive part of the equation for Sweeney, who is expected to platoon in right field with Cody Ross. Fenway isn't the easiest park for a right fielder, with the Pesky Pole at 302 feet and then a dramatic drop-off to 380 feet, creating quirky angles and ridiculous ricochets. You have to be a geometry whiz as much as an athlete to master right field at Fenway.

Sweeney may not create many runs with one swing of the bat (just 14 career home runs in 1,515 at-bats), but he can take one away with his glove. Sweeney, 27, has committed just four errors in 444 games and 938 chances. In his best offensive year -- 2009, when he started 134 games and hit .294 -- he also had 11 assists, tied for fifth in the American League.

"He has a lot of range in the outfield," said outfielder Darnell McDonald, who ran into Sweeney numerous times in Triple-A when he was with Durham and Sweeney was with Charlotte. "He runs down a lot of balls."

In his six seasons with the White Sox and A's, Sweeney treasured the time he spent in Fenway.

"I don't know a whole lot about baseball history, but I do know who's played there," he said. "Being able to step into the same batter's box as some of the greats and being able to play in one of the oldest stadiums will be cool.

"On TV, you think it's such a big place, and you get there and it's almost like a picture. It feels like it's small when you're actually standing out there. There are different dimensions to the field, and that's something I'll have to get used to."

If Sweeney's career had materialized the way he thought it would, he'd actually be taking the mound at Fenway.

At Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he was a big-time hitter, but he also went 4-1 with a 0.62 ERA as a left-handed pitcher during his senior season in 2003. He figured he might get drafted as a pitcher and eventually make it to The Show as a pitcher.

But then the White Sox took him in the second round of the draft and gave him a $785,000 signing bonus. They sent him to Bristol in the Appalachian League, where he hit .313 in 19 games, then moved him up to Great Falls in the Pioneer League, where he hit .353 in 10 games.

They fast-tracked him to Triple-A in 2006 at age 21, and he was called up in September. He made his debut Sept. 1 at Kauffman Stadium against the Royals as a defensive replacement. He pinch-ran against the Red Sox in Fenway on Sept. 4 and then started the next night, going 2-for-3 with a strikeout in a 1-0 loss to the Red Sox, lashing his first big league hit against lefty Kason Gabbard.

He was traded to the A's on Jan. 3, 2008, in a deal involving Nick Swisher. He had his best season in 2009, and was on pace for similar numbers in 2010 when he underwent surgery to repair patellar tendinitis in his right knee. Last year, he reported to camp to find that he had lost his everyday job because of a crowded outfield: Josh Willingham, Coco Crisp and David DeJesus, plus Hideki Matsui slated to be the primary designated hitter.

When Sweeney was traded to the Red Sox along with Bailey for Josh Reddick, Miles Head and Raul Alcantara, it was almost a relief.

"I think any trade's a shock," he said. "I didn't foresee myself getting traded. There were no indications about that. But last year, not being able to play a lot, I kind of wanted to be traded during the year. I wanted to go to someplace where I was going to play.

"I didn't see the trade coming, because they wouldn't trade me during the season. But that's baseball, man. You never know what's going to happen. I didn't know about the trade until 10 minutes before it came out in the media. It was a shock at first, then I was excited. I figured it'd be a great opportunity."

Sweeney agreed to a one-year, $1.75 million contract on Jan. 13, then found out 13 days later that Ross had signed as a free agent. What had possibly been a full-time gig in right field had turned into a potential time share.

"Obviously, everybody wants to play every day," he said. "I played for three or four years, and I was kind of a backup player last year. But whatever role they decide to put me in, being able to play for this team is an honor. It's an accomplishment to know a team like this one wants me."

Besides, Sweeney can't hate Ross. Ross is too nice -- or, as Sweeney says, a "good dude." On top of that, their wives had become friends even before Ross signed with the Red Sox. Ross and his wife live in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the Sweeneys are planning to buy a home there soon.

"He [Sweeney] is just a great guy," Ross said. "He's really easy to get along with. Just a solid guy. We obviously both want to play every day. Everybody should want to play every day. We're going to do as much as we can when we're called upon. That's what it's all about."

Ross has not showed Sweeney his ring from the San Francisco Giants' World Series championship team in 2010. One day, maybe. For now, they're both chasing a ring with the Red Sox.

"I've never even played in the playoffs," Sweeney said. "At Fenway, you're playing in front of a sellout crowd every night. It's almost like the playoffs every day."

Is he "the perfect guy for Fenway"? We're about to find out.


Rick Weber is a special contributor to ESPNBoston.com.