PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — When you find yourself the feature of a ballad, like West Michigan Whitecaps hitting coach Mike Hessman, you know you’re a big deal.
Hessman, 39, has been labeled ‘The Minor League Home Run King’ and even had a song written about him last year by a musician named Howie Newman.
“Hess is unbelievable. We all have a tremendous amount of respect for him,” Whitecaps outfielder Danny Woodrow said.
Under Hessman’s guidance, the Whitecaps lead the Midwest League in hitting with a .271 average.
“It’s awesome, he keeps everything positive. Everything is in a positive form, even if we’re not swinging it well,” third baseman Josh Lester said.
“He tries to understand your swing individually,” Woodrow said, “and he works with you instead of grouping everyone as a whole.”
This part of Hessman’s story is the newest chapter of his storied career. What he did before he got to West Michigan gives him instant credibility with the players.
During his playing career, Hessman spent 19 seasons in the minor leagues. In 2015, while playing for the Toledo Mud Hens, he hit home run No. 433 of his career, a minor league record that may never be broken.
“I try not to bring it up or talk about it,” Hessman said when asked about his record.
“A lot of us weren’t really paying attention to his career when he was playing,” Woodrow said. “But we know he’s got that record. I can’t even fathom.”
“I played with Hess. He’s one of my good buddies,” manager Mike Rabelo said. “He’s a pro. He’s fun to be around. A lot of baseball, a lot of dirt in his spikes and I’m just glad I get a chance to coach with him.”
“It’s funny, Rabs will say something about hitting, and then he’ll say, ‘Well, I don’t know. Ask the guy that has 433-something home runs,’” Lester said.
Both Hessman and Rabelo made the climb up the minor league ladder all the way up to the big leagues, so they can relate with their players. They know the rigors of the job, but they also know — and make sure — the players understand this is still a game.
“It’s been a blast. I’ve always loved coming to the field — even when I was done playing,” Hessman said of coaching for the Whitecaps. “I wanted to stay in the game somehow and stay on the field and run around with the guys, and still get out there and show them a few things and try to pass on some of the knowledge I’ve learned over the years.”