Hessman ties all-time homer record

With 432nd career long ball, Mud Hens veteran catches Arlett

Mike Hessman has spent parts of seven seasons with the Toledo Mud Hens. (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

By Sam Dykstra and Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | July 29, 2015 5:01 PM

Buzz Arlett has had a good run.

Mike Hessman caught Arlett for the U.S.-based Minor League home run record, slugging the 432nd of his 19-year career in the third inning of Triple-A Toledo's 9-3 win over Rochester on Wednesday.

The right-handed slugger, who doubled in his first at-bat, connected on the first pitch he saw from Red Wings right-handed starter Michael Bowden in the third, sending it over the wall in Fifth Third Field's left field. Hessman's Mud Hens teammates all gathered outside the Toledo dugout to celebrate that latest milestone for the player they call "King."

"It was great," Hessman said of the celebration. "I've been trying not to think about the record too much, but to get that support from my teammates and all the fans here in Toledo, it was pretty awesome."

As much as he wanted to not think about 432 though, the elusive record has been Hessman's mind, he admitted.

"It's definitely there," he said. "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. But once the game starts, I just try to slow everything down, not try to do too much and put some good swings on the ball."

Now settled into his spot atop the Minors home run throne, the 37-year-old corner infielder acknowledged he hasn't quite let his place in history sink in yet and is saving that for retirement.

"It's definitely special to get a record like this," he said, "but I haven't really taken the time to sit down and see the history of the league and the Minors or looked too much at anything about the guys ahead of me. Once it's all said and done, I'll dig a little deeper and see what really happened here."

As for his own history, Hessman began his pro career with the Braves in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 1996 and has logged 13 Minor League seasons with 20 or more homers. His record-tying blast was No. 17 of 2015, and his career high was 35 in 2012 for the Pacific Coast League's Oklahoma City RedHawks.

Hessman became the International League home run king last June 30 with his 259th in the circuit (now at 289) and holds Toledo franchise records for homers (185) and RBIs (481).

The California native has 14 Major League homers, having played 109 games with the Braves, Tigers and Mets, and he slugged six roundtrippers in 2011 for the Orix Buffaloes in Japan.

Hessman returned to the Tigers organization this season for his seventh campaign with Toledo. Though the veteran slugger is tied for fifth in the IL with 15 homers and has produced a .770 OPS, a .221 average -- his lowest since 2009 -- has led him to express some dismay about his 19th season in the Minors.

"For me personally, it's a little bit of a disappointment because I was expecting to do more," Hessman said. "I have been grinding through a lot of this season. I haven't been in the zone as much as I'd like, and it's been a little up and down. I'm really trying to grind out my at-bats. But I've still got some power numbers. I've always been blessed with that in my career, and I'm just working with what I can each day."

Arlett played 13 of his 19 professional seasons with the PCL's Oakland Oaks, hitting 251 homers for them. He slugged 18 for the Phillies in 1932 and retired in 1937 at the age of 38.

Next up for Hessman would be catching North American Minor League home run leader Hector Espino, who is credited with hitting 484 dingers in Mexico. Nelson Barrera (479), Andres Mora (444) and Alejandro "Alex" Ortiz (434) also are ahead of Hessman on that list.

Before any of those names can come into play though, Hessman and the Mud Hens have a day off Thursday, and there's only one place the slugger plans on celebrating Wednesday's record-tting accomplishment.

"Oh, I'll be on the golf course," he laughed. "I've got a nice tee time tomorrow, and I plan on being there all afternoon."

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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