The Toledo Mud Hens have announced that two players, third baseman Mike Hessman and right-handed pitcher Blaine Neal, have been named to the 2008 Team USA Olympic Baseball squad when the Summer Games open in Beijing, China during the month of August.
The two players were selected based on their achievements this year as well as their proven track record of being productive veterans. They are set to join a team consisting of fourteen Triple-A players, seven Double-A players, one Single-A professional, and one collegiate star. The selection process reviewed all players not on an active 25-man major league roster.
At the time of the announcement, Hessman was having a sensational year for the Mud Hens. The 30-year-old third baseman is first in the I.L. for home runs (32), runs scored (76), and extra-base hits (52). Hessman became the fastest player to hit twenty home runs in thirty years, slugging number twenty on May 28. He also is tied for second in slugging percentage (.596) and is fourth in RBI (63).
He is coming off of his second consecutive trip to the Triple-A All-Star Game during which he went 0-5 with an RBI and took second in the Home Run Derby. Hessman has collected 294 home runs throughout his career and ranks second in the modern-era with 263 Toledo runs scored and eighth all-time in Mud Hens’ history with 289 RBI.
Blaine Neal has been dominant as Toledo’s closer. The 30-year-old righty began the season on a tear, not allowing a run through his first nine games and was a perfect 17-17 in save opportunities to start the year. Neal leads the I.L. in saves (23), has struck out 36 batters in his 32.1 innings of work, and boasts a 1.39 ERA. He just earned a spot on the I.L.’s All-Star squad for the first time in 2008. Neal has 109 saves to his credit during his career.
Team USA takes on Korea in the opening round August 13. The medal rounds will begin August 23, a day before the closing ceremonies.
Jamie D'Antona's whirlwind weekend came to a booming close Monday night at Louisville Slugger Field as the Tucson Sidewinders infielder outlasted Hessman to capture the 2008 Triple-A Home Run Derby.
Headlined by the leading home run hitters in the International League and Pacific Coast Leagues, six of Triple-A Baseball’s top sluggers competed in the 2008 Papa John’s All-Star Home Run Derby at Louisville Slugger Field in Louisville, Kentucky.
PCL representative Dallas McPherson of Albuquerque was the current Minor League Baseball home run leader, heading in with 31 round trippers. Hessman had 30, hitting two more the day before leaving for the Olympic Team.
Joining McPherson on the PCL side was Matt Brown (18 home runs) of the Salt Lake Bees and Jason Smith (18) of the Omaha Royals. Brown and Smith are tied for fourth in the PCL home run race.
Hessman headlined the IL side of the Home Run Derby. Hessman was joined by a pair of Pawtucket Red Sox in Jeff Bailey (23 home runs) and Jonathan Van Every (22 home runs).
There were 26 homers hit during the event, with D'Antona accounting for eight of them. His final shot came in the second playoff round, a rising liner that touched down in the left-field bleachers and gave him a 4-3 advantage over Hessman in the finals.
D'Antona earned $1,000 for his effort. D'Antona got the call to participate in the Derby as a replacement when Albuquerque's Dallas McPherson, the Minor League home run leader, withdrew for personal reasons.
"I don't think it was a matter of not getting respect," D'Antona was quoted by a mlb.com writer, "There are a lot of people who want to play. A lot of things can happen in baseball and I just took advantage of the opportunity. I've been taking advantage of the opportunity all year. It's been a dream season."
D'Antona, who has 15 homers this season, needed a playoff to get out of the first round, slugging two homers in the extra session to advance ahead of Salt Lake's Matt Brown and Pawtucket's Jeff Bailey. He and Hessman each connected for three homers in the semifinals, ousting Omaha's Jason Smith and Pawtucket's Jon Van Every to set up the dramatic finale, one that D'Antona figured Hessman would win. Yet it was D'Antona, hitting second, who rallied for the victory.
"Of course, we thought Hessman would win," D'Antona said. "He's a monster. He's got the leverage, he's taller than all of us. I thought he would take it without a problem."
That proved not to be the case.