Ben Sheets joins Braves on comeback trail

David Brown

Both parties seem desperate at first glance. The older former star trying to recapture past glory one last time, and the struggling franchise trying anything to stay in playoff contention. But if it works out, what a comeback story right-hander Ben Sheets would be for the Atlanta Braves.

A four-time All-Star from 2001 to 2008 despite frequent injuries, Sheets tried a comeback two years ago that ended with Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his elbow. About 22 months removed from what seemed to be the end of his career, Sheets is headed from the Little League fields of the South, where he coached his 9-year-old son, to the Braves, where he will try to pitch again when he'll soon be 34.

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The Braves and Sheets announced a minor-league deal Sunday night, and he'll start "a couple" of games for Class AA Mississippi, reports Carroll Rogers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Braves hope Sheets is ready for the majors shortly after the All-Star break. Sheets said he did just enough throwing with his son Seaver's team to make him wonder if he could pitch again:

Seaver, named for Mets Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, offered up the backyard "Throwback" machine his dad had bought him to pitch to, so he could find out for himself.

"I'd throw against a 'Throwback' at 11 o'clock at night and tick my neighbors off," Sheets said Sunday, after throwing a bullpen at Turner Field. "They keep flipping their lights on and off like 'Go inside, Son.'"

Sheets said he built up his arm strength on his own, without coaches or trainers or much of a goal at first, other than his son's encouragement.

"My little boy would go out there and root me on like 'C'mon dad, you can do it'," Sheets said.

After more than two months of throwing without elbow pain, his agent put out a feeler and the Braves were among a handful off teams to scout him three weeks ago in Monroe.

The Braves clocked him at 91, 92 mph. Sheets' elbow still felt fine. It was on. This could mean big business for the Throwback (I had one of those too!), and the Braves, who recently lost Brandon Beachy for the season to an elbow injury. They've had other injuries, and other pitchers have underperformed. Considering all of that, and with his team sitting 4 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East, GM Frank Wren must figure "Why not?" with Sheets.

"We're getting a guy who is a four-time All-Star and there is nothing wrong with his arm," Wren said. "You have a quality major league pitcher prior to the deadline without having to give up any talent. It really is the best of all worlds."

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Well, there's no such thing as something for nothing. The Braves still might pursue other pitchers not coming off horrible injuries, a guy like Matt Garza, for example. And if he doesn't make it back, Sheets is going to be bummed. So there's always a price. But at least he'll never have to wonder "What if?"

Regardless, as Rogers says in her post, have the Disney people standing by. We're going to need a casting call for someone to play Ben Sheets if this thing works out. And the kid named Seaver.

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