At 14 years of age, Ben Spies had a decision to make.
Major League Baseball or motorcycle racing.
Two wheels won with Spies electing to pursue his motorcycling dreams and putting aside aspirations of being a pitcher in professional baseball.
“At school I played baseball and I feel I could have been a professional player had I kept at it, I probably could have made the major leagues, not as top star but at that level,” Spies said.
“I was a naturally left-handed pitcher and my normal pitch had a lot of movement for a right-hand batter so it made me unique to play against.
“I was on the brink of doing baseball but my passion for motorcycling took over at 14, and I’m much better on a bike than at baseball.”
Spies’ decision was the right one and over the following 14 years, he completed a glorious career to establish himself as one of America’s finest motorcycle racers.
Now content in retirement, Spies is celebrating his 30th birthday (July 11, 2014) having dealt with the reality that a debilitating shoulder injury means motorcycle racing is no longer an option.
Spies was forced into retirement last October on medical advice bringing a premature end to his international aspirations in MotoGP.
“I want to say never say never, but unless something dramatic happens in the world of medicine then 100% it is not happening at any level of racing,” Spies said.
“It sucks for sure but not when I know that if I gave 100% and tried to line up then it is dangerous because of the shoulder.
“That made it an easier pill to swallow and when it came to retirement.”
After a horror season of injuries and surgeries in 2012 while racing in MotoGP as teammate to Jorge Lorenzo at Yamaha, Spies tried to race on in 2013 with Ducati but without success.
“If things were right I could maybe have won a couple more races and been in the top three in the world championship but I don’t think being MotoGP World Champion was ever on the cards for me,” he said.
But Spies did win at the highest level of the sport with a victory in the 2011 Dutch TT at Assen.
The love affair with bike started as a five year old in junior racing in Texas and by 15, his future was set in motion with his first professional contract with Suzuki.
Spies and Suzuki became a potent force in AMA racing with three consecutive Superbike Championships in 2006, 2007 and 2008 — a period highlighted by a fierce rivalry with Suzuki teammate Mat Mladin.
In 2009 Spies burst onto international stage with a stunning rookie season that delivered the World Superbike Championship with Yamaha.
Spies won 14 out of 28 races and scored 11 pole positions, a performance that guaranteed his promotion to MotoGP and three seasons (2010, 2011 and 2012) with Yamaha.
Spies’ departure from Yamaha ended in tense circumstances at the end of 2012 after some crashes and mechanical failures. Inspired by a Ducati contact for 2103, Spies quickly realized that weakened shoulder could no longer deal with the demands of racing.
But Spies has few regrets and needs to make no apology for his commitment to winning which often made him seem detached and intense during a race weekend.
Winning sportsmen have to be selfish and Spies says that his race face was never the real Ben Spies.
“If you look at anyone in any top sport, from footballers to tennis players to cyclists, they are like that,” Spies said.
“It’s not so much being selfish as surrounding yourself with the things that are going to produce success. It is a matter of figuring out what it takes to get the best performance out of yourself.
“A lot people say I should have smiled more at the track and even my friends tell me that I looked pissed off at races. But when I’m a way from the track I’m completely different, my friends know that.”
In retirement Spies is keeping busy with his restaurant business in Dallas, property investments and Elbowz Racing – the American team that allows Spies to indulge in his passion for cycling.Ben Spies, MotoGP