Hessman becomes Minors' HR king

Toledo Mud Hens slugger swats 433rd dinger

Hessman becomes Minors' HR king

On Monday night at Fifth Third Field in Toledo, Mud Hens third baseman Mike Hessman stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the seventh inning and hit a grand slam to left-center field, becoming the Minor League home run king in grand style.

Hessman's 433rd Minor League homer -- off a fastball from Lehigh Valley pitcher Dustin McGowan -- broke the record set by Oakland Oaks slugger Buzz Arlett more than six decades ago. It was not, however, enough to push the Mud Hens by the IronPigs as they lost, 10-8, in 11 innings.

"I wasn't thinking about hitting a home run, I was just trying to get a pitch to hit and get a run in for us," Hessman said. "But it was one of those times when I knew I had it as soon as I hit it."

Hessman, 37, began this season -- his 19th in the Minor Leagues -- with 417 home runs and tied Arlett at 432 in the third inning of Triple-A Toledo's 9-3 win over Rochester last Wednesday night. He said getting that home run was a mental relief.

"It was more stressful to try to get tied with the record," Hessman said. "Since I tied it, even though I haven't had a lot of hits, my swing has been feeling good and I've been a lot more relaxed."

Hessman is one of only four players in history to hit over 400 home runs and has hit 183 in his six-plus seasons in Toledo, but he claims he's never counted his round-trippers.

"The media comes up and wants to talk about it. A lot of fans in Toledo know about it and talked to me and encouraged me walking into the ballpark. Obviously, it's nice they follow along, and I appreciate that," Hessman said recently. "But I can never tell you what record is coming up or how many home runs I have. I've just never paid attention to that stuff."

He also says he's never paid much heed to the Crash Davis comparisons, but there are too many similarities for most seamheads to ignore.

Davis, the main character in the 1988 baseball classic "Bull Durham," was an aging player chasing the Minor League home run record. In the movie, Crash, played by Kevin Costner, got his record. And in the real-life version of the story, Hessman has gotten his, too.

"I didn't set out to break the record this year, but I said if I could stay healthy, there would be an opportunity to get to that number," he said. "When I do think about it, it's more in the context of, 'Wow, I've been around a long time to get that many home runs.'"

A long time, indeed. Hessman was drafted in the 15th round of the 1996 Draft by the Braves, right out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., and he never looked back.

Hessman has played over 2,000 Minor League games, but the 6-foot-5, 215-pound right-handed hitter also saw some big league action. In 109 games over five seasons with the Braves, Tigers and Mets, Hessman had 14 home runs and 33 RBIs.

In reality, Hessman may have more in common with the man whose record he's been chasing than he does with Davis. Russell Loris Arlett, known as Buzz, had numbers similar to Hessman's. He hit his 432 home runs in a Minor League career that also spanned 19 years, from 1918 to 1937, and also got a taste of the big leagues, playing 121 games with the Phillies in 1931 with 18 home runs and 72 RBIs.

Hessman got his first big league at-bat on Aug. 26, 2003, pinch-hitting for the Braves in the bottom of the ninth against the Mets. In perfectly scripted fashion, the then 25-year-old homered off Mets closer Mike Stanton.

"I don't know how to explain it," Hessman said. "I can take batting practice and I won't hit a lot of homers, but I've been given a gift to have some power in the games."

Atlanta lost that game, 6-5, but Hessman kept the ball, retrieved from the man who caught it in exchange for a bat signed by Hessman's pal Marcus Giles, then the Braves' second baseman.

Hessman did the same after breaking the International League home run record last July, getting his ball back in exchange for an autographed bat and ball. This time, though, it wasn't so easy. The Mud Hens are still negotiating with the fan who caught Hessman's grand slam.

No doubt Hessman's five-year-old daughter Sabrina, who spent the first part of her summer in Toledo with her mother watching her father play before heading home to South Carolina with her mom, would be excited to lay eyes on No. 433. Sabrina has been counting each home run even if her father hasn't.

"She said, 'I hope you do it on the road so I feel like I didn't miss it,'" Hessman said. "I've started a little memorabilia collection upstairs at my house with things signed by guys I admire, so I'd have someone with better penmanship than me write the date on the ball and it would go up there."

But there's no more speculation now. On Aug. 3, 2015, Hessman made history.

Lindsay Berra is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.