As he walked off the mound Friday night after pitching six strong innings for the Atlanta Braves, Ben Sheets had to smile and think to himself “what a journey it has been.”
The 34-year-old pitcher would earn his third win of the season, upping his season total to 3-0 with a 0.50 ERA in three games since his return to baseball this season from a two-year layoff. In fact, Ben had spent the majority of the last two years having surgery and rehabbing his elbow after two separate operations.
After being the 10th overall pick in the 1999 MLB draft by the Milwaukee Brewers, Ben rapidly ascended through the minors and made his major league debut in 2001. He went 10-5 with a 3.69 ERA in his first 16 starts and set incredibly high expectations. The Brewers were excited about having an ace to bolster their pitching staff for a decade-plus.
Ben continued to impress on the mound for the next few years, and many considered the right-hander to be a top-10 pitcher in baseball. Then, after making 102 healthy starts, Ben’s setbacks started.
He spent seven weeks in 2006 on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis. He bounced back to start in the 2007 All-Star Game but his pitching wasn’t quite the same. The Brewers shelved him during 2008 with a shoulder injury. The Texas Rangers picked him up in February 2009 but he never pitched for the team when a physical reveal damage to his elbow. Ben then spent the next two seasons having operations on his pitching elbow, including Tommy John procedure, which in many cases ends a pitcher’s career.
Undeterred by present circumstances, Ben continued to rehab and fight back. He wanted to compete again, and wasn’t going to let multiple surgeries prevent him from taking the mound.
Ben is now helping the Atlanta Braves fight for a National League East title and another shot at the playoffs. Pitching like his 22-year-old self, Ben is blowing away skeptics and batters each time he takes the mound. We can only hope the success continues for the man determined to overcome all odds.