Along with the smell of champagne and some Gatorade stains on his jersey, what Mike Hessman seemed to take away most from Monday night was a sense of relief.
Exactly one month after tying the International League career home run record, Hessman homered in the third inning of Triple-A Toledo's 9-1 win over Indianapolis on Monday night. The round-tripper was the 259th for Hessman in the IL, surpassing long-time Buffalo outfielder Ollie Carnegie for the most in league history.
"It obviously feels good to get it out of the way," Hessman said. "I'd been sitting on it for a while, with injuries and stuff, just trying to get back on the field. … It's one of those things where I'm finally glad it's over with."
Hessman jolted the record-breaker on a 2-0 offering from Indianapolis right-hander Jake Brigham. The right-handed hitter drove the ball over the wall in left-center field.
"Jake, I have a lot of respect for him," Hessman said. "My first at-bat, he threw some sinkers in, so I knew he would probably go back in there. When I got ahead, he threw more of a four-seam fastball without much movement. I was lucky enough to get a pitch over the plate, and it was something I could put a good swing on."
Indianapolis alerted the crowd to the history it had just seen, and Hessman's trot around the bases was accompanied by a growing ovation. Teammates lined up outside the dugout to greet him after the blast. During an on-field postgame interview, they showered the slugger with champagne and Gatorade.
"It was awesome," Hessman said. "After I hit it, the whole team came out there outside the dugout to congratulate me, high-fives and hugs all around.
"It's been good, been fun the whole process of going after it. It was nice to see my teammates celebrating and have a good time with it."
The homer was Hessman's first extra-base hit since tying Carnegie on May 30 with a solo homer against Charlotte. The 36-year-old missed time having a pre-cancerous growth removed from his face and also a lingering wrist injury, but went 13 games without a long ball since matching the record.
"I was kind of banged up and went through a few injuries," Hessman said. "The longer it took, it was just one of those things where I was trying to get healthy and back on the field, get out to play and finally I got it done."
Earlier this year, Hessman became the seventh Minor Leaguer to club 400 homers. He's the leader among active players with 404 long balls.
Carnegie, the man he surpassed Monday, clubbed 258 IL homers between 1931 -- he was 32 years old when he started his run -- and 1945, all with Buffalo.
Hessman said he has both his 400th home run ball and now the IL record-breaker after the Indianapolis staff tracked down the souvenir from the fan who caught it. The first baseman said he traded a signed bat and ball for No. 259.
Hessman was a 15th-round Draft pick by the Braves in 1996 out of Mater Dei High School in California. He played in Atlanta through the 2004 season, belting his first 61 IL homers over three seasons with Triple-A Richmond.
From 2005-'09, he hit 140 home runs with Toledo. He added 18 homers in 64 games with Buffalo in 2010 before spending 2011 in Japan. He returned to the United States with Oklahoma City of the Pacific Coast League in 2012, then came back to the IL with Louisville in '13, bopping 25 homers.
He returned to the Mud Hens this season and has 15 homers in 64 games with the Tigers affiliate, giving him 156 homers with the team.
Next on Hessman's milestone checklist would be a move into sixth all-time on the Minor League home run list. He currently trails Nick Cullop, who had 420 homers between 1920 and 1944.
For now, the slugger is happy to be healthy and have a little time to enjoy playing ball between chasing checkpoints for his historic career.
"Honestly, I haven't put a lot of thought into it," Hessman said. "My thoughts are just trying to stay healthy and stay on the field to compete and try to give my team a chance to win.
"I think once my playing days are over, or once the year is over with, maybe I can take a step back a little bit and look at it in a different perspective and see what was really going on, but like I said, I'm just enjoying the process and enjoying going out and playing the game."