Mike Sweeney, one of baseball's best citizens and the Royals' designated hitter, was a baseball fan before he was a star hitter. Collecting baseball cards was one of the ways he expressed his passion for the sport:

MLBPLAYERS.COM: When did you start collecting?

Sweeney: I think I was about six or seven years old. It was a hobby for me and my younger brother Richard, who was my best friend. He was only two years younger than me.

I had some nice cards, like rookie (Mark) McGwire and rookie (Jose) Cansecos. I loved the cards of players I could identify with, the Bobby Griches, the Rod Carews, the Lance Parrishes. I didn't care to get them signed.

What was cool for me is when we'd go get our haircuts at the Big W barbershop -- there was also a little trading card area. You could trade cards and also buy them. While we were waiting for a haircut, my brother, father and I would buy cards. It was a big part of our childhood.

MLBPLAYERS.COM: What was your most treasured card?

Sweeney: My most prized cards were my Brian Downing cards. He was my favorite player growing up, for the California Angels. I loved wearing No. 5 as a child. I got a chance to meet him at five (years old) at my Little League Opening Day. My dad played with him when I was younger.

I was quick to trade a Goose Gossage and a Darryl Strawberry for a Brian Downing and a Bobby Grich. I wanted my Angels.

MLBPLAYERS.COM: Where are the cards now?

Sweeney: I have them in a shoebox. Someday I'll pass them down (to son Michael, Jr.). I'm not in it for money by any means. My high school coach from 1991, when I first signed to play pro ball, had been collecting all my pro cards. It started out with one card out of high school and it started to stockpile. Now there's hundreds. About six months ago, when my son turned 2, I got a box in the mail. It said, 'My dad is my hero.' It was sheets full of cards of myself. It's intended to be given to my son.

MLBPLAYERS.COM: On which card did you first appear?

Sweeney: Something out of high school, I think called the Little Sun card. It was on top high school prospects coming out in 1991. I saw a lot of guys still playing in that set. It was a set of about 40 kids in the United States.

My first pro card was the Eugene Emeralds card in the Minor Leagues. When you get a card in Eugene, Oregon, you think you arrived. It's not a Topps or Donruss or Fleer, but it's a baseball card with your picture on it.

I used to catch. Sometimes I get people asking me to sign my catcher's cards. I want to keep that; those are the days I cherish.

-- Red Line Editorial