The Greatest Slugger You’ve Never Heard Of

December 12, 2014

Any way you cut it, hitting more than 400 home runs at any level is impressive. And although Mike Hessman didn’t rack up those home runs at the big-league level like he originally hoped he would, he still enjoys the time he spends playing the game he loves.

At the beginning of his journey to becoming the all-time leader in minor-league home runs, Hessman had quite an interesting meeting with a scout from the Atlanta Braves, a team that was interested in signing him after they selected him out of high school in the draft.

“I was at home with my mom and dad. I’d had a phone call from the Braves saying they had drafted me, and we had everything lined up where I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to go.’ I told my scout that I had a fishing trip planned the next week,” he laughs. “They wanted me to sign and go right away to Florida. The scout said, ‘Let me call the head office. Just give me about five minutes.’ Well, my dad took me out into the driveway and he let me have it. He said, ‘Man, you can go fishing whenever you want! This is the opportunity of a lifetime!’”

Hessman’s dad needn’t have worried. “The scout came back and said, ‘Everything’s a go. Spend your week fishing and when you get back, be ready to sweat.’ That very night I went over to my buddy’s house and we packed the truck and drove to Mexico for a week’s fishing.”

This relaxed attitude toward life is displayed in Hessman’s personality, one that includes many other positives, according to his wife, Sabrina.

“He’s very nurturing. He’s my security blanket; he’s just that kind of person. He’s a gentle giant.”

During his first couple of years in baseball, however, he spent many nights frustrated by his performance on the diamond. “For three years, I hit under .200. As a hitter, them days you don’t last in the game; they get rid of you. I hated calling home because I knew my wife was going to be upset.”

Difficulty on the field is one thing, but when it starts affecting your life off of the field it gets that much worse. “It put a strain on our marriage,” Sabrina says. “We would fight about it. He would say, ‘I don’t want to call you because I know you’re going to be so upset and you’re going to be crying.’ There were times I would beg him to quit playing baseball: ‘This is enough, let’s stop.’”

Hessman eventually reached the end of his rope. He cried out to God and laid lifelong baseball dreams at His feet.

“I remember walking onto the field in Rochester. I said, ‘That’s it, I surrender; it’s yours. If you want to take it, take it.’ And you know, when I finally gave it up like that, I felt this huge weight come off of me. I felt free, I felt like I could go out there and play the game with no consequences, play it without worrying about striking out three times, going 0-12, whatever it may be. I finally said, ‘Man, I’m going to go out there and I’m going to have fun!’”

The newfound freedom allowed him to become one of the biggest power threats that Triple-A has ever seen. He has hit 417 home runs of the course of his minor-league career, and though the achievement escapes the spotlight it would get in the big leagues, he’s perfectly content with that.

“I’m alright playing at Triple-A. When I step on that field, I think, ‘I’m going to do this for You, Lord. I’m going to play for You. I’ve prepared, I’ve done the things that I’ve needed to do, and I want to glorify You while I’m out on this field.’”

Hessman, at 36, looks to continue his career for just one more year. The journey to this point has tried and tested both him and Sabrina, but it pushed him into a deeper relationship with God.

“God’s always searching for us and wanting to have a relationship with us. I get a little emotional [because] I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful that I have a relationship with Him.” —Brian Rzeppa