Love of sports guided Sheets to Hall of Fame

Brent St. Germain
Former MLB pitcher and St. Amant High graduate Ben Sheets speaks at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame press conference in Natchitoches. Photo by Brent St. Germain.

Ben Sheets didn’t play sports for the glory or national recognition. He played for the love of the game.

“I played because I liked it,” said Sheets, a St. Amant High School graduate. “There was never a scholarship goal or ever any goal. I played baseball and basketball because I liked to play the sports.”

Sheets’ love for the game of baseball is what led him on an adventure of a lifetime. The hard-throwing right-handed pitcher parlayed his skills into college and Major League Baseball careers and even won an Olympic gold medal along the way.

On Saturday, Sheets’ adventure reached the plateau as he was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame’s 11-member Class of 2016.

Sheets said that his love of sports is one of the main reasons he will forever be remembered as a Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer.

“It really wasn’t an ulterior motive that I wanted to pitch in the big leagues, pitch in college or even pitch in the Olympics,” he said. “My parents always told me that if you went for something, you stuck with it. When I went out back to play, it was Ben picking up a baseball or basketball. I didn’t do it to get better. I did it because I enjoyed doing it.”

Success followed Sheets throughout his baseball career.

After a standout career at St. Amant High, Sheets had a successful three-year career at the University of Louisiana-Monroe and was named a two-time All-American and the 1999 Louisiana Player of the Year by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. He parlayed that success into being a first-round pick (10th overall) by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1999 Major League Baseball draft.

Before breaking into the big leagues, Sheets displayed his potential on a national scale as a starting pitcher for Team USA during the 2000 Summer Olympics in Australia. The team was coached by National Baseball Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda.

Given the opportunity to pitch the gold-medal game against Cuba, Sheets didn’t disappoint.  He pitched a complete-game, three-hit shutout to lead Team USA to a 4-0 win and the gold medal.

“I don’t think he knew what I meant at the time, but deep down I knew I was going to pitch that game and there was no way that Cuba team was going to beat us,” Sheets said. “Knowing what I know today, I don’t think I would ever be that arrogant or dumb, but luckily, it worked out for us.”

It didn’t take long for Sheets to make his mark with the Brewers. He made it to the big leagues in 2001 and earned a spot in the All-Star Game as a rookie.

“Baseball just wasn’t that hard at the time, and I was wondering why people are stressing out about it,” he said. “You get the ball every five days, kick somebody’s butt and call your parents to tell them about it.”

That was the start of a successful 10-year Major League Baseball career. He pitched eight seasons with the Brewers and had stints with the Oakland Athletics and Atlanta Braves. Although injuries cut short his career, Sheets finished with a 94-96 record with a 3.78 ERA and 1,325 strikeouts and made four trips to the All-Star Game (2001, 2004, 2007 and 2008).

Although his playing days are over, Sheets’ love for the game keeps him involved in sports.

Sheets has volunteered as a coach at his alma mater ULM and is coaching at Sterlington High School in Monroe. Sheets is also helping his sons develop the same love for the game as he is coaching their youth sports teams.

“If I tell you that I probably coach 100 kids, I would probably be leaving out some,” he said. “It’s something that I enjoy giving back because I get to go out with my kid and lead the way. I don’t know how many hours a week it is, but it is very rewarding.”

While he is known for having a hard-throwing right arm, Sheets was not known for his hitting prowess, but he still has the bat he used throughout his career on display at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

Sheets jokingly said it is something he doesn’t want back.

“I used that my entire career, and it does not have one mark on it,” he said. “I used it in (batting practice) every day and in games, and it does not have one mark. I was asked when I turned it in why it doesn’t have a mark on it, but you need to be able hit the ball to do that. I told the museum that they could keep it.”