Rumbling around on the Buffalo team bus on the way to Columbus from Toledo, barely recovered from a hand injury that sidelined him for a month and mired in an eight-game slump that had him striking out 10 times in 32 at-bats — this was not the way Mike Hessman expected “The Call” to come.
“The Call” being that phone call every career minor-leaguer like Hessman, 32, thinks about, and the one that gets less likely with every year, every injury and every slump. For the fifth time, Hessman was called up to the majors, this time from Triple-A Buffalo.
“I was like, ‘Are you messing with me?’ ” he said. “It was just great. It was completely unexpected.”
Also unexpected, at least for Mets fans, was what happened two days later: Hessman, journeyman extraordinaire, introduced himself (again) last night with a bang. His two-run double to leftfield with two outs in the first barely missed being a grand slam and breathed life into the Mets after Johan Santana gave up six runs in the top of the inning.
Hessman made his 2010 Mets debut in relative anonymity Tuesday, popping out as a pinch hitter. He started last night’s game, batting sixth. He went 1-for-5 and was hit by a pitch in the 8-7, 13-inning loss to the Cardinals.
Granted, the circumstances, especially after Hessman’s injury, are not ideal. But he has exactly what the offensively starved Mets need: a big bat — a record-breaking one, even. Hessman has 329 homers in the minors, most among active players. Before the June 6 injury, a stress fracture after he was hit by a pitch, he led the International League with 18 homers and 57 RBIs.
He also has flexibility. Although mostly a third and first baseman, Hessman also can play the outfield. For a team with little depth at middle infield and even less behind David Wright, Hessman, though “average defensively,” manager Jerry Manuel said, provides options. He also provides a chance to rest Ike Davis at first, which the Mets did last night.
“I really don’t know where I’ll play,” Hessman said. “I’m assuming third, but whatever they want.”
Hessman got his start in the Braves’ farm system in 1996, and has done well in limited opportunities. His last call-up came with the Tigers in 2008, where he hit five home runs in 27 at-bats before being sent back down.
Hope deferred, but Hessman remained philosophical.
“Obviously, I’ve been around for awhile,” he said. “I know how hard it can be to get here. There are guys that get called up right away — superstars of the game that get here and stay awhile, and there are guys that have to grind it out. It’s special when you get that call.”
For his slim major-league experience (174 at-bats), Hessman is a consummate veteran. When he speaks, it’s only a little louder than a whisper, and his sun-weathered face brightens when he talks about this latest shot.
“There are times when it can get frustrating,” he said. “I’m not going to do too much: Go in there, take my normal approach and hope some good things happen.”
Good things happened in the first inning, when Hessman managed to get an apathetic crowd cheering and on its feet.
“It’s the same game,” he said. “There are just more people watching.”