Crash Davis is coming back to Durham.
While it might not be in the form of “Bull Durham” star Kevin Costner, the current incarnation will give fans plenty to cheer for. Mike “Crash Davis” Hessman of the Toledo Mud Hens will come to town for the upcoming Triple-A All-Star Game and Home Run Derby.
Although his nickname – which stems from former Duke and Durham Bulls player Lawrence Davis and was made famous by the 1988 film “Bull Durham” – might be known league-wide, it is more media-fueled than it is heard from any of the players, Hessman said.
“To be honest, I don’t get it as often as you’d think,” he said. “Once in a blue moon a fan will scream it.”
Hessman’s career is impressive, as it has spanned 18 seasons with 13 minor league teams and three major league teams. However, it is easier to have a long career when you can pump out home runs like the Santa Ana, Calif., native.
Monday will mark two weeks since Hessman’s record-setting 259th International League home run. Although Hessman, the active home run leader in the minors, has never been one to chase numbers, this record – which fell June 30 against Indianapolis – was hard to overlook.
“They just come along. I’ve never been one to keep up with records,” he said. “I knew I was getting close (to the IL record) this season though. … If the records come, I know I’ve been blessed.”
Even after 404 home runs in the minors and 24 in the majors, one stands above the rest. On Aug. 26, 2003, Hessman was called upon to pinch-hit while playing with the Atlanta Braves. With one swing, Hessman had his first major league hit and a home run.
“The first (major league home run) meant a lot,” he said. “It was also my first big-league hit. That one has a special place in your heart. It means a bit more.”
And while his 18 years have been a “blessing,” Hessman, 36, knows the ride will end sooner rather than later.
“If a team gives me an opportunity I’m going to go for it as long as I feel like I have something to contribute,” he said. “But I know I’m getting down to the end of it.”
With this in mind, he has begun to look – just like Costner’s Crash Davis did at the end of the film – into the prospect of managing the game he has spent his entire life around.
“I would love to stay in the game,” Hessman said. “I would love to pass along the knowledge to young ball players and help them become big-league players. I try to lead by example. I definitely look at the game with a manager’s perspective.”
But before he calls it quits or lines up for Durham Bulls and IL manager Charlie Montoyo in Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star Game, Hessman will take his cuts during Monday’s Home Run Derby.
This year’s derby will mark his fourth appearance. Surprisingly, he has yet to win the event.
He’s an in-game hitter, not a batting practice superstar. And although he said he’s just out there to have fun with his fellow All-Stars, he is hoping this year can end his winless streak.
“I’d like to say, ‘yea,’ ” Hessman said when asked if this would be the derby to end his losing streak.
“I actually don’t really hit a lot of home runs in batting practice. I have never won (a home run derby.) I’ve got to the final round before, but I’ve never won.”
As someone who has been around a while, Hessman has played his fair share of games at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, making him well acquainted with the Blue Monster, Snorting Bull and 400-foot sign in center field. But even still, as long as the ball clears the fence, he’ll be happy.
“I’ve got no preference” where I hit it,” he laughed. “As long as they go out.”
But local workers beware: Although he might not care where the ball sails, he did say the buildings outlining the stadium give him something to aim at.
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