NATCHITOCHES — Ben Sheets didn’t need to make a comeback to Major League Baseball at the age of 34 in 2012 to prove anything.
Signing on with the Atlanta Braves at midseason that summer after pitching in only 20 games between 2009 and 2011, the four-time all-star did it for another reason — and for one reason only, he said Saturday.
“I just didn’t want my career to end that way,” said Sheets, a St. Amant native who was undoubtedly robbed of many big-league wins because of back and arm troubles. “I wanted to end it on my own terms.”
That he did.
Forty days after making his eighth start for the Braves, the former St. Amant High School, Louisiana-Monroe, USA Baseball and Milwaukee Brewers star took the mound for the 250th and final appearance of a career that earned him entrance to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
On Oct. 3, 2012, Sheets pitched the first inning of a 4-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in PNC Park — striking out two batters while retiring the Pirates in order — and called it a career.
“I’m not overly sure why I went back,” Sheets admitted Saturday, before the start of the ceremony in which he and 10 others were officially enshrined in the Hall of Fame. “I guess it was a nice way to end it … with no one pushing me out.”
Looking back, it could have been a lot better.
Sheets had a career record of 94-96 and a 3.78 ERA in 10 MLB seasons, eight of them with the Brewers, before arm woes ended the once-promising career of the 10th pick of the 1999 MLB draft.
He had 10 or more wins in seven of his eight years in Milwaukee, enjoying his time there so much that he named his second son Miller after — yep — Miller Park, the Brewers’ home stadium.
Sheets and wife Julie’s first-born son, Seaver, was named after flame-throwing Hall of Famer Tom Seaver.
“Definitely, what I did in baseball is still very important to me and my family,” Sheets said with a smile.
Before he even reached the majors as a 22-year-old in 2001, Sheets made a name for himself when he fired a three-hit shutout against Cuba to secure the gold medal for the U.S. in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
While Sheets was reaching the peak of his major-league career in 2008, shortly before he had Tommy John surgery, the International Olympic Committee announced that baseball and softball would be discontinued after the 2008 Games.
The IOC has since reversed course and is expected to bring both back for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
That’s good news for Sheets, considering he cemented his place in USA Baseball history when he dominated the once-invincible Cubans in 2000.
“It’s big because we showed we can play some big-time sports here,” he said of winning the gold medal. “It’s big for America, and it’s a sport that we would like to compete in at the Olympics.
“I know the guys over at USA Baseball, (executive director) Paul Seiler and those guys, that’s their living. They don’t just want to win Olympic medals; they want to win gold medals.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.