Seven years ago, Ben Sheets was a 23-year-old flamethrowing rookie for the Milwaukee Brewers.
For the first three seasons of his career, Sheets was the only bright spot for a franchise that had seen a lot of darkness for over 20 years.
In those seasons, he started 93 games, with 34 starts in the 2002 and 2003. He struck out 327 batters in those two years, and they both served as precursors to the 2004 season.
Easily the best season in his career, Sheets started 34 more games and pitched 237 innings, or about seven innings per start. He also struck out an incomprehensible 264 batters and set a then-career best in wins with a 12-14 record for a team that went 67-94.
It was after this season that the Brewers started feeling really good as an organization. Prospects named Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and JJ Hardy prepared themselves for their inevitable Major League debuts. Sluggers Carlos Lee and Geoff Jenkins would lead the otherwise young offense, and Ben Sheets would be the ace of the pitching staff and shut down opposing lineups.
There was finally some excitement around the Brewers in 2005, and the team finished at 81-81. Unfortunately, a lot of it was with Chris Capuano leading the pitching staff, not Sheets.
Capuano won 18 games that season, and Brewer fans were left to wonder what would've happened if Sheets had made 34 starts again instead of the 22 he did make.
It was the first sign of things to come when it came to a Sheets injury report.
He has missed starts in every season since 2005, with his low start total being 17 in 2006. He only made 24 starts in 2007, a season in which the Brewers could've used six or seven more wins to get into the postseason. Sheets could've provided those wins with ten more starts.
This season was a little different. Sheets got back up to the 30 start plateau, but in his 30th start, he left after two innings with pain in his elbow. With his contract expiring after the conclusion of this season, whenever it may be, the reality that Ben Sheets may have made his last start as a Brewer is starting to set in.
So that's why I take a look back. To celebrate a great pitcher's success and to wonder about what could have been had he not become a porcelain strikeout machine that he is today.