Ben Sheets ran out onto the field at Miller Park for the first time in six years when he returned on June 13 for the Brewers Wall of Honor ceremonies, and he remains a fan favorite to this day.
Drafted No. 10 overall by the Brewers in 1999, Sheets left Milwaukee after the 2008 season as an unrestricted free agent. He missed all of 2009 with injury, came back to pitch in 2010 with Oakland, missed all of 2011, and then made nine starts with Atlanta in 2012 before calling it a career.
Recently, OnMilwaukee.com caught up with the Louisiana native and, in his succinct and humorous style, Sheets reminisced about County Stadium, helping lead the Brewers' resurgence and pitching in pain down the stretch in 2008.
OnMilwaukee.com*: Do you have a few innings left?
Ben Sheets: I can’t give anybody a pitch. You’re talking about an inning?
OMC: What did the Wall of Honor induction mean to you?
BS: Well, (former Brewers beat writer) Drew (Olson) said they invited everybody. He said I wasn’t getting invited, but I was the last one on the list. He’s like, dude, we tried everybody, you were the 56th we could get. No, it’s a good honor. It’s a pretty cool little thing they’ve got in there. I’m just excited to be back and see some of the former teammates.
OMC: What were your best memories here?
BS: I think, like I’ve been saying, just really from the beginning when we were so bad, losing 100 games to the end when we leave and we make the playoffs. That’s pretty good. You feel like you accomplished something throughout them years.
OMC: It doesn’t seem like that long ago when you came out of the dugout with an Olympic gold medal around your neck.
BS: I know. That means we’re getting old, man. That’s all that means. That was the last game at County Stadium. It seems long ago, but it don’t. Time flies, I guess.
OMC: How do you look at your time here, your longest tenure with one team in baseball?
BS: Yeah ... my biggest stay – eight years compared to a half everywhere else. I’ve never really even looked back and really thought about it, to tell you the truth. It was good. I had a great time. It’s where I played at. I gave it what I had. Good, bad, indifferent. It wasn’t what I threw out there in Oakland. That was some doo-doo.
OMC: Do you hang out with Brett Favre at all?
BS: No. I don’t know where he lives. Mississippi? He’s Mississippi. We don’t hang out with them. We Louisiana bro.
OMC: Do you still follow the Brewers?
BS: I really just – MLB Network, whatever’s on there. My kids turn it on every night so when we’re laying down it’s whatever’s on there we kind of watch. I can’t say we just sit down and watch a game. I’ve seen Yovani (Gallardo) doing his Ben Sheets impersonation, hitting a ball off the wall. Pretty incredible. They asked me – I don’t know who the hitting coach was, but he came up and asked me if I could spend some time with the hitters today. I didn’t really have time. I had to be up here.
OMC: Do any games stand out, or do you just think of the camaraderie?
BS: I could probably remember every game. Selective memory. I can remember pretty much most of ‘em. I had some better ones that I remember. But, all in all man, as a whole is kind of how I look back at it.
OMC: Was Milwaukee a good fit for you as a professional?
BS: Yeah, it was a good fit. I thought it was a good fit. You come back and you realize it’s a big city but it’s kind of slow paced and that’s kind of what I liked. It’s easy to play here. It ain’t like some of the other places. I think all three of the places I played we’re pretty easy to play. They want you to go out there and perform but they were easy crowds.
OMC: How do you look back at 2008, starting so strong but not being able to finish that way?
BS: Yeah, I mean, obviously. Some people ask me if I regret it because when you look at it, the year that I was having, I mean, you could say three weeks away from another nice payday if you’re looking at it that way. But that’s never why I played. They go, do you regret, you could’ve just sat out and ended healthy. But I don’t. For me, it was what I did. I’d rather be out there trying to get it done. And unfortunately it didn’t work out you know? But I’m fine with the decision each and every day.
OMC: How about the way Milwaukee reacted to seeing winning baseball in ’08?
BS: Also, we had CC (Sabathia) who pitched every day – they were there to see him. He packed the crowd. You’d say they only came when he pitched. But they came all the time, I’m just joking, but he pitched like every day in the month of September. It was like, man, can you go on one day’s rest? Two? Three? Just tell us when you’re going. What a run. He definitely helped get over the top.
OMC: What’s the appeal of coaching for you – I know you’re doing some work at your alma mater at Louisiana-Monroe?
BS: I don’t do much. I volunteer. I only got out there five times. I went in the fall a little bit. I mostly do this youth stuff. I got some parents that tell me how to play baseball, and stuff like that. So I’m learning more every day from doctors and the welders and people like that.
OMC: In your first major league at-bat, did you get the squeeze bunt sign?
BS: Yeah, I got a squeeze sign. The guy threw it at my head and they tagged the guy out coming home, because you know I didn’t get it down. Then I called time out, wiped my underwear off and shook ‘em out and got back in there and struck out.
OMC: That’s your whole career as a hitter.
BS: Yeah, I was terrible. Who likes to hit? That’s still what I’m still trying to figure out.
OMC: Do you remember Vlad Guerrero’s hit (on June 8, 2004) in Anaheim to break up a no-hitter? (Sheets allowed one hit in nine innings. The Brewers won, 1-0, in 17 innings).
BS: Oh, yup. In the seventh (inning). But you know what, that’s a blessing in disguise. That wouldn’t have been cool – like throw nine perfect, possibly, and like still playing? That’s not cool.
OMC: He golfed that pitch.
BS: He did. It was on the ground. But I mean, that was the story of the Brewers in the early 2000s. We weren’t a very good team. It was stuff like that that happened.
OMC: But you got to see it turn around.
BS: We got to see it. That ’08 was the first playoff we had made in a long time. We had a pretty good team. We had good teams before. Not great. And just find a way to let it fall apart. If I’m not mistaken in ’08 we almost let it fall apart, too. Didn’t we lose like five of the last eight or something? So it ain’t like we went into the playoffs hitting on all cylinders. But like they say, it’s a marathon not a sprint. You set yourself up in the beginning of the season to have that luxury, to be able to kind of fall apart late and still get in there.
OMC: You mentioned remembering some games, do you recall the duel with Jake Peavy in 2008?
BS: That’s a good one. That was early September, something like that. My arm wasn’t feeling good either on that day. That’s why you just never know, man. That’s why you go out there and give it a try because some days you stink and they just hit right at people and you find a way to do your job. On other days you feel great and can’t get out of the first inning.
OMC: Can you put into context what those days meant to you versus where you are now?
BS: Those days meaning what? When I was playing? They were good times. It was a different part of my life. I didn’t have kids. Or they were young. Today I enjoy what I’m doing now, raising two boys and being able to be there for them whenever they look outside their batter’s box and they step out and look, dad’s in the stands. That means more to me probably than even playing. Really, the health didn’t knock me out the game. I just chose to, at that time, it was time for me to get out.
OMC: When you got the word that you were being inducted into this Wall of Honor, what did that mean that you’re immortalized?
BS: I shed a … I shed a tear. I’m not going to lie. I think it was two. Two, I think. No, that is a pretty cool little deal in there. It really is. It come out better than I thought. I didn’t even know what to expect ‘cause to me, things like this, I don’t know, I always took it in stride. People are always like ‘wow, why didn’t you tell me?’ That’s not what I do. I don’t go around telling people about small accomplishments or even big accomplishments, you know? But it is cool. It’s cooler than I thought it’d be.
*Not all questions were asked by OnMilwaukee.com during Sheets' group media interview session.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.