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November 5, 2007

ULM retires baseball jerseys; Sheets and Finley reflect on honor

All a baseball player really wants is a number, said an emotional Ben Sheets, #15.

To have that jersey number retired is “something to be proud of,” he said. “You come up here (then Northeast Louisiana University) and you don’t expect anything. All you really want is a number.” Tears welling up in his eyes and his voice full of emotion, he said, “Thanks, that all I can say.”

Sheets, who played at the university from 1997-1999, and Chuck Finley, who played at the university from 1984-1985, were honored in a jersey retirement reception Saturday, Nov. 3 at the University of Louisiana at Monroe Anna Gray Noe Alumni Center on the ULM campus. The only other baseball jersey retired at ULM was #24, which belonged to Coach Lou St. Amant, who coached Finley while at the university.

Finley, #31, called his jersey retirement “an honor.” “It’s very special to me. Playing in the big league is very tough; it’s a lot of hard work. You really don’t think about the numbers until you’re done playing. This makes you very proud. When I came out to Northeast and started playing here, I never thought that this would actually happen, but it did,” he said. “This is what I tell people all the time: you can actually be from a small town and make it. You don’t have to be from a big school. You can be from a smaller school and still make it. It’s very important that you show yourself to kids, let them see your face, let them hear your stories, give them hope and tell them: it can happen to you.”

ULM President James Cofer asked each of the baseball legends to sign baseballs for display in his office, and the audience erupted in applause. Of recognizing the two incredible athletes, Cofer said, “It’s a great day for ULM.”

Bobby Staub, ULM athletics director, thanked the baseball greats for returning to their alma matter. “It’s phenomenal to have two players of this stature come from this school.”

Both Sheets, who recently finished his seventh season with the Milwaukee Brewers, and Finley, who played for the California Angels, have represented ULM incredibly well, said Jeff Schexnaider, ULM head baseball coach.

“There is not a day that goes by that their names are not mentioned. Every recruit we talk to, their names come up. That lets them know that their dreams can come true, right here at ULM.”

More about Finley:
A 1996 inductee into the ULM Hall of Fame, Finley was a two-year letter-winner at then-NLU, helping his teams to a combined 60-38 record in 1984 and 1985.

Finley was named Most Valuable Player of the Pelican Cup Series in 1984 before being drafted with the No. 4 pick overall in the 1985 Major League Baseball Draft.

A three-time American League All-Star on the mound, Finley holds the career records for the California Angels for victories and strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher.

More about Sheets:
A 2007 inductee into the ULM Hall of Fame, Sheets was a First Team All-American and the 10th overall pick in the Major League Baseball Draft in 1999.

Sheets was named a freshman All-American in 1997, and he set the ULM pitching record for single season victories after posting a 14-1 record in '99. Setting the school record with 20 strikeouts against Louisiana Tech, Sheets finished the season with 158 strikeouts, the most at ULM at the time. In his three-year career with ULM, Sheets was named Southland Conference Player and Pitcher of the Year in 1999.

In 2000 he pitched Team USA to an Olympic Gold Medal. Sheets just finished his seventh season as the ace of the Milwaukee Brewers. On six occasions Sheets has finished a major league season with 10 or more victories. He has 73 career victories and 1,048 career strikeouts.

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