Archive for September 5th, 2009

That Mike Hessman, He’s Got Some Stories To Tell

Before this season, I drafted Mike Hessman as a third base option in my fantasy baseball league.  It seemed worth it after he  hit five homers last September.  Hessman stuck around on my roster for awhile, but when Detroit shipped him down to the minor leagues, I figured it was time to cut him and see what else I could find (the answer: nothing.  I’m stuck in 24th place and my offense has been awful).

Maybe I’m in 24th place because I suck at reading up on players, which is why silly me didn’t realize that this Hessman kid, he’s done some stuff:

The former International League MVP has done about as much as a Minor Leaguer can over 14 seasons — a home run championship, an appearance at the Olympics and even a homer in his first Major League at-bat.

On Friday, the 31-year-old managed to add another chapter to his career.

“LP (manager Larry Parrish) came up to me and said, ‘Do you want to pull a Hoop?’ I didn’t know what he meant until he told me he wanted to know if I wanted to play all nine [positions],” Hessman told the Toledo Blade.

Four men have played all nine positions in a game in the major leagues (Bert Campaneris, Cesar Tovar, Scott Sheldon, and Shane Halter), but at the minor league level the feat has become sort of a fun thing that teams do to reward players when the playoffs are either clinched or out of reach. (I remember a few years ago, either 2003 or 2004, three Atlantic League players did it in the same game, and Adam Ricks did it last year for Winston-Salem after the team had already wrapped up a playoff spot.)

Hessman, though, was in a unique situation: when he came on to pitch the ninth, Toledo had a one-run lead.  He got the first two outs, but couldn’t seal the deal, giving up two runs and taking the loss.  In fact, it was sort of a forgettable day to remember for the veteran:

Hessman went 1-for-5 with a single and four strikeouts, was thrown out stealing, suffered his first blown save, took the loss and played all nine positions in the Mud Hens’ 12-11 loss to the Columbus Clippers.

That sort of describes his whole career in one sentence: a couple of really cool things mixed in with a bunch of stuff that just didn’t work out.

Get Well Soon, Luke Holko

As a father, certain stories strike a deeper chord with me than others.  The one I just read, first from the Associated Press and then from, about Luke Holko – that one hit me harder than most.

Luke is a four-year-old baseball fan from Ohio.  On Wednesday, he was sitting with his parents in the front row at a Mahoning Valley Scrappers game when a foul ball off the bat of Scrappers first baseman Ben Carlson flew into the stands and struck him in the head.  The emergency medical response was exceptionally fast, but damage was already done: Luke’s skull fractured and the bone pressed into his brain, requiring surgery and an agonizing five-day wait for swelling to decrease enough to allow doctors to further evaluate his condition.

I remember when I worked for the Nashua Pride, an opposing player once came up to me and asked for a favor.

“My wife and son are here,” he said, gesturing to them in the stands, which at Holman Stadium sit right on top of the field (“Not a bad seat in the house!” we used to boast to people who called to order tickets).  His boy wasn’t very old, maybe four or five, and I think his wife might have been pregnant.  “Their seats are out in the open.  Do you think you can get them moved behind the screen?”  He knew the inherent danger that came from sitting so close to the field at a professional baseball game.  (Unfortunately, we had a sellout that day and I wasn’t able to get the seats moved.  Because I had no concept at the time of his concern, I took it in stride.  Boy, do I feel different now.)

That request makes me wonder how long it will be before minor league baseball takes steps to protect its youngest fans, because signs that warn of projectiles flying into the stands (thus absolving the team’s themselves of liability) are clearly not enough.

One solution that I’ve heard in the past is to extend the screen behind home plate down the base lines, at least past the dugouts.  I think this is a great idea.  Fans would surely protest at first – my friend Billy, for example, always worries about sitting behind home plate because he thinks he won’t be able to see the ball as well – but the netting that is currently in place barely impedes the view of the game.  Adding it further down the lines would only help protect fans, especially children, who can’t possibly react quickly enough on sharp line drives into the seats close to the field.

“How will we catch foul balls?” you might say.  “Who cares about foul balls, if fans are safer?” I might counter.

Barring such a change, I hope parents just make smart decisions about bringing their children to games.  When my son was really little, we used to bring him to games, letting him sit in seats that were way too exposed while we paid way too little attention to the action on the field.  This year, I didn’t take him to the ballpark at all, and probably won’t until he’s a few years older.

Even then, our seats will be either behind the plate or so far from the batter that we’ll have ample time to react if a foul ball comes close.  The AP noted in its story that, “During a news conference Friday, the boy’s mother, Nicole Holko of North Bloomfield, said her son loves baseball and the accident won’t stop the family from attending games.”  I hope Luke recovers fully, I hope his family does get back out to the ballpark, and I hope they take the same precautions that I would.