The 2010 New York Mets were a team that saw their window of opportunity quickly close behind them. Four years after appearing in the 2006 NLCS behind young hopefuls David Wright and Jose Reyes, the Mets were headed to their second consecutive losing season and were planning to rebuild. For minor league veteran Mike Hessman, the 2010 season was the first step in those efforts, as his team, the Mets’ then-Triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons, were beginning to develop the next crop of homegrown players, while he himself experienced a personal resurgence that led to a post-playing career in the coaching ranks.
Drafted in the 15th round by the Atlanta Braves in 1996, Hessman spent parts of five major league seasons with three different franchises but built a legacy in the International League as one of the league’s most celebrated hitters. Entering his age-32 season in 2010, Hessman’s career clearly defined itself but he kept pursuing the dream of potentially translating his Triple-A notoriety into one last chance at the major leagues.
Signing a minor league deal with the Mets the previous winter, Hessman joined the Buffalo Bisons and served as both a mentor to their youngest prospects and also became one of the team’s most productive hitters. “The Mets organization was outstanding for the time I was over there. That year, I came up with Ike Davis. He had a successful rookie season. Ruben Tejada was on his way up. Lucas Duda was on his way up, so definitely a lot of good, young talent at the time,” Hessman said.
Managed by former big league Ken Oberkfell, the Bisons not only finished with a 76-68 record, but featured five players, who eventually began members of the 2015 Mets’ World Series club and also future Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, who was the key piece dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays two years later for Noah Syndergaard. “R.A. Dickey was that team. He was red hot for us. There was a game for us where he gave up a hit to the leadoff batter and then retired 27 in a row. He obviously got called up later that year and that stood out.”
As one of the team’s elder statesman, Hessman set an example by displaying a strong work ethic and demonstrating what it took to reach the game’s highest level. “I went to see how they went about their business as opposed to talking much,” Hessman explains. “Wanted to make sure they played the game the right way and played hard. I pretty much led by example and made sure everybody respected the game and always being prepared.”
On a personal level, Hessman contributed his team’s efforts in a meaningful way, leading the Bisons with 18 home runs and 51 RBIs in 64 games with the club. Hessman’s strong performance led to a 32 game stint with Mets, where he hit his last big league home run and played his final season in the majors. “It was awesome to be able to get another chance to play in the big leagues. New York is great because there is a lot to do in the city. I loved coming to the stadium. There were a lot of great memories here.”
Non-tendered by the Mets that winter, Hessman played the 2011 season in Japan with the Orix Buffaloes before returning to minor league baseball for his final two seasons with the Toledo Mud Hens, the Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, where he played from 2005 to the end of the 2009 season. A seasoned minor league veteran, Hessman’s name started appearing at the top of the International League record books and his final season in 2015, Hessman set the minor league home run record with 433, breaking the mark held for 78 years held by Buzz Arlett. “I honestly did not know about the home run record until the guys kept asking me how many I need. The Tigers’ organization has been great to me and I was extremely thankful and blessed to play those last couple of years.”
After announcing his retirement last winter, the Tigers offered Hessman a position as the hitting instruction for their New York-Penn League team in Norwich, Connecticut. On the road with the Connecticut Tigers to face the Brooklyn Cyclones at MCU Park in early July, Hessman returned to New York for the first time since leaving the Mets’ organization to play in Japan and provides the same tutelage and lessons he received in Buffalo when preparing his young players for the rigors of a professional baseball career. “I mentioned to the Tigers that I wanted to pursue coaching. I knew last season was going to be the end for me as a player and a month or two after the season ended, we had some deeper conversations and I am happy to continue my career in baseball.”