I Miss Ben Sheets | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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I Miss Ben Sheets

By on September 23, 2010

Today, on my way to class, I saw a Ben Sheets jersey shirt.

One of my favorite things to do while walking to classes is to spot team apparel, particularly hats and jerseys. Although the population at UW-Madison is mostly Wisconsinite (I believe about 88%), there’s still enough diversity that you’ll occasionally see apparel from teams all across the nation. I find it really interesting to see what kind of jerseys and what kind of hats my classmates are wearing, for some reason. Probably the same reason why I’m really into jersey designs and the kind of things they talk about over at the Uni Watch blog.

Often, it’s boring. Aaron Rodgers jerseys are extremely common, and so are Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder shirts or jerseys. The real joy comes from those unexpected, rare, and out there jerseys. On Tuesday, I saw a Carlos Delfino Bucks jersey on my way back home from the gym – he’s one of my irrational favorite players a la George Kottaras, and that made me smile. Occasionally, I see throwback jerseys that bring back nostalgic memories – Charles Barkley Suns jerseys, Michael Jordan #45 Bulls jerseys, even Vin Baker purple Bucks jerseys (I’m kind of a hoopster, apparently. I don’t particularly care if the player is very good – I just enjoy, for some reason or another, seeing jerseys like these.

Of course, there are the jerseys that I can’t stand, too, like the Brett Favre Vikings jerseys that are all over campus on Sundays and Mondays. Ryan Dempster Cubs jerseys bring a certain ire to my heart. The point is, jerseys tend to bring me some sort of reaction after the initial curiosity, whether it’s disappointment at their commonality, happiness from nostalgia or other factors, or hatred of a rival team.

However, as I managed decipher the number 15 and the name “Sheets” from around the backpack of the student walking down Charter Street today, I didn’t feel any of those emotions. Instead, I felt sadness.

My baseball fandom was always there, but my Brewers fandom didn’t really take off until about 1999, which marked the year in which cable television entered the household. Along with cable television came Fox Sports, and along with Fox Sports came daily Brewers coverage. I can’t say I remember too much about those first few seasons outside of Alex Sanchez (no clue why), Jeffrey Hammonds, and Richie Sexson. But then, in 2001, Ben Sheets made his debut.

Sheets made the All-Star game in that rookie season, but his career didn’t really take off until 2004. I was 14 and already plenty enamored with Sheets, who as a semi-decent pitcher from 2001-2003 was much better than the deadbeats that the team had shuffled in the rotation alongside Sheets. And then, in 2004 and beyond, Sheets became one of the best pitchers in the game. Sheets couldn’t win a ton of games due to the teams, but he still posted ridiculous numbers, most notably his 237 IP, 2.70 ERA, 264 K, 32 BB season in that 2004 season.

Everybody knows about the injuries that plagued Sheets’s career particularly in the later part of the decade, but there’s no denying what Sheets represented for this franchise. He was the bright light among the darkness of ten losing seasons and counting. He was the one player you could count on to provide a highlight. In the glory days of Scott Podsednik and Lyle Overbay, there was Ben Sheets to make you gasp with a 20 strikeout game or a one hit shutout. He was the promise of the kind of talent that could create a playoff team. And truly, although much of the 2008 playoff run is put on CC Sabathia’s shoulders, Ben Sheets deserves credit too, as he put together another fine season before suffering the final injury of his Brewers career in September.

It’s hard to put into words exactly why I’m so sad about Ben Sheets. I loved Richie Sexson, as I was a first baseman myself in little league at the time, but I was far from disappointed to see him go, even at age 11 (or whatever it was). I simply moved on to loving Lyle Overbay and then Prince Fielder. With Sheets, I had the perfect replacement in Yovani Gallardo, but by the time Gallardo burst onto the scene, my expectations and approach to watching the Brewers had completely changed. I was actually expecting wins. It was more than just a diversion, the Brewers had become an investment.

There was something special about watching Ben Sheets in those lost seasons in the early and mid-2000s, and maybe it was the promise of the contending year(s) to come in the later part of the decade. The excitement of the Sheets start and the knowledge that despite our futility and utter lack of talent, we still had one of the best pitchers in the league on our side. He was ours. He took the mound with the “Brewers” on his chest, and when something good happened, we actually got to cheer.

Maybe it was simply that he was the first truly great pitcher that I witnessed as a Brewer fan, and maybe it’s simply stupid nostalgia that makes me miss Ben Sheets so much. Maybe that’s why I was so sad when I saw this picture back in March.

And now I’ve become increasingly rambly about a pitcher who was a member of mostly losing teams and ended up as second fiddle on the one team that did actually win something. Still, I know that whenever I see those Sheets jerseys or pictures of Sheets with another team, it’ll bring back the great memories of his success among so much failure in the middle of the decade, and I’ll miss his talent, and even more, I’ll miss what he represented on those teams.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Steve says: September 23, 2010

    Your post, likewise, reminded me of the days when listening and watching to the Brewers, the only hope you had was when the broadcasters talked about the minor league players in the Brewers’ system such as Ben Sheets and Nick Neugebauer.

  2. Jeremy Schmidt says: September 23, 2010

    I was at the game at County Stadium when Sheets came out with his Olympic gold medal on. That was something. The promise of what he could, would, do was really all I had to hold on to at that point. When he started becoming an ace, it was such a relief and allowed me to believe that this draft and develop players system could work. He was something.

  3. Greg says: September 24, 2010

    Great post that really hits home because I started becoming a Brewers’ fan at about the same time. Thanks for bringing back the memories!

  4. SVA says: September 24, 2010

    Nice post.

    I was at the CC Sabathia bobblehead giveaway game this season, with the team choosing him as the Brewer to exemplify the 2000s. No denying that those three months were the most exciting of my time as a Brewer fan (born in ’83). But I couldn’t help but think that the choice disrespected a lot of what Sheets meant for the team during some pretty lean years.

  5. Michael says: September 24, 2010

    I think part of the reason for the CC bobblehead may have been that Sheets already had a couple over the past few seasons so CC was a new face as well as a memorable pose.

    I was at Sheets’ last start as a Brewers. Unfortunately it didn’t go well an I didn’t get to see the Brewers clinch in person. Oh well, Sheets was my favorite Brewer for a long time.

  6. Jason says: September 24, 2010

    Good post, I also miss Ben Sheets, especially given how poor Brewers pitching has been this year.

    By the way, UW-Madison is only about 65% in state (I also goto school there).

  7. Paul says: September 27, 2010

    I was at the Labor Day 2008 game between the Mets and Brewers. Sheets was outdueling Johan Santana, but shockingly, with a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the 5th inning (and only 54 pitches), a pinch-hitter came up for Sheets. Our group’s collective response was “uh-oh – here’s this year’s season-ending injury.” Our fears were somewhat relieved when he pitched a shutout against the Padres in his next start. Unfortunately, that was his last win as a Brewer. I certainly don’t know him personally, but I’ve gotta believe that injury KILLED him – after toiling on crappy teams for so many years here was the chance to play in the postseason, and it was derailed by yet another injury. That was a sad ending as Sheets was also one of my favorite players.

    On a side note, I did catch Carlos Delgado’s game-winning HR off Eric Gagne in the Labor Day game (our group was in the Mercedes Benz Field Haus, as it was know at the time). It still brings back the painful memories!

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