Outfielder Mike Hessman was signed in February by Houston and sent to the Astros' Triple-A affiliate, the Oklahoma City RedHawks. The minors are nothing new for the 34-year-old Fountain Valley, Calif., native. He's spent parts of 16 seasons in the bushes, but Oklahoma City is his first Pacific Coast League stop. Hessman, a 1996 draft pick of the Atlanta Braves, has mostly played in International League cities Toledo, Richmond and Buffalo. He is expected to provide the RedHawks with some power — he has 350 career homers in the minors.
Question: You played in Japan last year for the Orix Buffaloes. What was that experience like?
Answer: “It was interesting. My family (wife and daughter) adjusted really well over there. They took really good care of us.”
How does professional baseball in Japan compare to the United States?
“The baseball is definitely different, how they run their programs.”
What was the biggest difference?
“Their work ethic. It's pretty intense over there. It blows what we do out of the water. We are on the field during spring training at 8 in the morning until 5 ‘o clock at night. It's go, go, go non-stop. Once the season starts they still have a big program of conditioning and running.”
What was the hardest thing to get used to?
“Baseball wise, just the traveling. We had to have five or six uniforms going different places at one time. Here, we are used to setting up shop in the clubhouse and having everything organized. There, you are living out of two or three different bags.”
Did you learn to speak the language?
“Not really. The language was very difficult. Where we live it was very Americanized. There was a lot of English spoken.”
Did you have a translator?
“Only on the baseball field. Once we left the field, we were on our own.”
What were the pre-game meals like?
“There were a lot of ramen bowls. They do put out some grilled chicken type stuff with rice.”
How skilled are the Japanese baseball players?
“They are very skilled, very disciplined. They really focus on executing, getting bunts down, moving runners over. It's a small ball game over there. The first inning, they are sac bunting if the leadoff guy gets on.”
If you took the best Japanese teams and put them in the major leagues, how would they do?