No player embodied the "Larry's Wall Bangers" persona that surrounded Toledo during the playoffs more than Mike Hessman.
The Mud Hens were a homer-happy lot, much to the delight of skipper Larry Parrish, who watched his team grip it and rip it all the way to a second consecutive International League title.
Hessman was the leader of the group, batting .306 with five homers and nine RBIs in 10 games as Toledo ousted Charlotte and Rochester to retain its crown. The Hens hit 22 homers during the playoffs and Hessman was always at the heart of the surge, cracking one of the four roundtrippers in the title game against the Red Wings. For his efforts, Hessman won MiLB.com's Triple A Playoff Performer of the Year Award.
"You play the whole season to get to that point and the last two regular seasons haven't exactly been what I wanted," said Hessman, who hit .292 with two homers and seven RBIs in the 2005 playoffs. "But the organization stuck with me through thick and thin, they had my back and I was able to come through at a clutch time. Give a lot of credit to the staff in Toledo for sticking with me.
"I know I can play there and I tried to step up throughout the playoffs and show everyone why they stuck with me."
While Hessman had several big games during the postseason, the one that stands out the most is his Game 1 performance in the Finals. He blasted the Mud Hens past Rochester at Frontier Field, stunning the hosts after it appeared they would be the victors.
Rochester held a 3-1 lead going into the eighth inning, with Toledo's lone run coming on a Hessman homer. After Red Wings starter Mike Smith departed, however, the Hens blitzed the bullpen, with Hessman providing the first big shot of the series, a three-run homer off Bobby Korecky that rang off the left-field foul pole.
"That game in Rochester really stands out," Hessman said. "We were kind of down and out with their starter, and that solo shot got us on the board. Then we came back late, tied the game and that three-run homer put us ahead."
Hessman, originally a 19th-round pick by the Braves in 1996, spent parts of 2003 and 2004 in Atlanta. He's been with Toledo each of the past two seasons. While he has hit 52 homers during that stretch, he's batted .214 and .165, respectively. Yet the Tigers re-signed him earlier this month -- he signed the contract on the 13th, which also was his second wedding anniversary -- and Hessman believes his postseason effort factored into Detroit's decision to bring him back.
"I think the playoff performance was a lot of it," said Hessman, whose second-inning homer in the championship finale gave the Hens a 3-0 lead. "I worked a lot with (hitting coach) Bull (Leon Durham) and LP (Parrish), and I was coming off some hand injuries and a wrist problem. I had gotten a cortisone shot and I finally got back on track mentally after that.
"After coming back in mid-August, I think I hit nine homers through the end of the year, including the playoffs. And they saw signs of what they were expecting out of me. Getting on the right page with them and working on my approach mentally really helped a lot."
Toledo became the 11th team to win back-to-back Governors' Cups. And while Hessman is hoping to be in Detroit, or some other Major League city in September, a great alternative certainly would be helping the Hens try and complete their trifecta. The only other team to win three consecutive Governors' Cups was Columbus from 1979-81.
"I've been on some playoff teams with Richmond and they have some diehards there, but they don't pack the stands like Toledo," Hessman said. "They were dying for a championship there. And for them to pack that stadium every night, when we won the division the fans wouldn't leave. They just kept screaming and yelling.
"So we went out and did some laps and thanked them for sticking by us the whole year. You definitely feel a difference when you have fans like that pulling for you."
It also makes is easy to cheer when your team has someone like Hessman banging the ball all over the yard every year when the playoffs come around.