On January 26, 2010, Ben Sheets agreed to a one year, $10 million with an additional $2 million in incentives, contract with the Oakland Athletics. “Ok,” I thought, “he was hurt last year and this is his comeback.” I knew Ben was injury prone as he had just undergone Tommy John surgery the year before and sat out the entire 2009 season to rehab. It seemed at the time a high risk/reward signing, but I put it out of my mind because of the fact that I had other things to do. You see, it was my day off and I was supposed to meet a nice young lady for some beers and some games of pool at one of those newly opened, posh “gastropubs”. The date goes fine, we drink some nice brews, play some pool and I nod my head at all the crucial moments. Everything is going great until we step out on the back patio to smoke a joint… and then it hits me. Didn’t I see this guy pitch in the minor leagues?
I can hear the readers screaming, “this guy is having a great time with this woman and he’s thinking about a fucking baseball player!” Well yes, I was, and even worse…I was thinking about the ex-girlfriend that had accompanied me to a baseball game. This is date suicide, I know, but bear with me–all of the thoughts below were fully compartmentalized within two minutes or so. (and it’s not as if it’s an epic, Homer-like story) That’s only about 3-4 head nods and a couple “mmm hmmm’s.”
It’s 1999. I had been wanting to go to a California League game for quite a while. Stockton, Ca. was the closest city to where I was living so it was the logical choice. The Stockton Ports were an (A) team for the Milwaukee Brewers, and I had a little rooting interest for the “Brew Crew;” I thought they were a scrappy, fun bunch. My girlfriend and I hop on the freeway and drive an half an hour south of Sacramento to the murderous, unemployed shit-heap known as Stockton.
Billy Hebert Field was in a sketchy neighborhood in the middle of a park. It was a bit old and had metal bleachers down the third/first base lines. The ballpark had opened in 1953, yet supposedly the land that was/is the field has been used for baseball since the late 19th century, and as legend says, the exact location where the poem “Casey at the bat” had taken place. We grab our beers and peanuts and sit on the third base line. The crowd is sparse, yet I’m enjoying myself.
Minor league games tend to have wacky promotions, yet this one was right out of the Bill Veeck hand book. The PA announcer tells the crowd that so and so from the opposing team would be the game’s “beer batter.” This meant that every time the batter in question struck out beer would be half off for 10 minutes. On the mound for the Ports that day was their newly signed “bonus baby,” Ben Sheets. Sheets proceeded to strike out the “beer batter” 4 times; and since there was barely a crowd, I would slowly walk to the concession stand and get a few beers for half off. The first few times were novelty, and then as the innings went by and the suds kicked in it became a sort of a right of passage and celebration of this young man’s talent. I was “three SHEETS to the wind” by the end of the game.
Times have changed. The Ports moved into a new, modern ballpark in 2005, leaving Billy Hebert unattended. They are now an affiliate of the Oakland A’s. Ben Sheets retired in 2012. He couldn’t shake off the injury bug that had hampered his career. I don’t speak to either woman anymore in this story. We had great times, yet that rolling stone keeps on moving. This isn’t a special story….it’s just another baseball fan’s testament, and a story that will all too soon fade away.