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Learning Curve
Tom Verducci
October 01, 2001
It's been a season of dizzying highs and lows for Ben Sheets, the Brewers All-Star rookie pitcher, and SI charted his progress all the way
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October 01, 2001

Learning Curve

It's been a season of dizzying highs and lows for Ben Sheets, the Brewers All-Star rookie pitcher, and SI charted his progress all the way

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The Brewers lose again, 3-2 to Houston. Wright was one out from winning the game of his life—a six-hitter with 12 strikeouts—when he hung a curve to Vinny Castilla, who ripped a two-run homer. After the game the clubhouse TVs are off. Sheets's drawl is about the only voice in the dead room.

"Hey, look at this," he says, patting his bare, trim stomach. "I'm down to 210. Nothing to do on the DL except jump on the bike or the treadmill." He will, he promises, add exercises to his regimen to ward off another breakdown next season. "I've always done my arm exercises," he says, "but I never added anything because I didn't need to."

SEPTEMBER 21
MILWAUKEE

Pitching again for the first time in 46 days, the leaner Sheets works five efficient innings against the Cincinnati Reds. He needs only 43 pitches (all but 11 of them strikes) and allows two runs, one of them unearned. He walks no one.

"He's a lot stronger now," Lopes says. "He feels he had to address certain areas of his body to help reduce the chance of getting hurt. It's an ongoing process."

"It's been an interesting year," Sheets says. "The biggest thing I've learned is, I can compete at this level. And I know if I don't go out there with my [good] stuff, I'll get hit. I've seen both ends of the spectrum. Hopefully, it all makes you stronger"

He hasn't won a game in the second half of the season, though it has not been all bad. In August his father and his mother, Betty, drove up from Louisiana to visit Ben and Julie in Milwaukee. They brought Bruiser, Ben's beloved bulldog, who will stay with Ben and Julie for the rest of the season. Julie leaves the television on for Bruiser—he likes to watch baseball—whenever she goes to Miller Park.

Soon Ben will be back in St. Amant, among kinfolk, friends and all the jambalaya Ascension Parish has to offer. He will not take home a gold medal this time. He will take with him only the tales and wisdom of a first season in the big leagues.

"The good thing about going home," he says, "is they'd rather hear about the 10 wins than the nine losses. During the season you always hear negative things, but as soon as you get home, you're around people who really care. They'll ask me about facing McGwire and Griffey. They'll ask me what it was like at the All-Star Game, what some of those guys were like. I'll tell them about my one hit. That shouldn't take too long. It'll be fun. That's what I'll do when I get home. I'll tell them stories."

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