There are a number of Mud Hens fans that figure Larry Parrish can walk on water.
But he couldn’t stop it from falling Tuesday night. Of course, these days, who can?
The former Toledo manager, the winningest in Hens’ history, had his International League Hall of Fame ceremony moved indoors as rain pelted Fifth Third Field and delayed the start of a game against Louisville.
“Any Hall of Fame is pretty nice,” Parrish said. “This is quite an honor.”
The real fun, of course, was long before the ceremony when Parrish lounged in the coaches’ office with his one-time assistants, Bull Durham and A.J. Sager. There were a few laughs shared.
The two Hens coaches pulled an opponent’s hitting chart out of a binder and showed it to Parrish.
“You’re pitching the heck out of this guy,” he said, flashing that sly grin.
This guy was Mike Hessman, one of Parrish’s favorite former players who is no longer with the Hens but who is still abusing IL pitchers, especially those from Toledo.
Hessman hit 140 home runs for the Hens in five years under Parrish. He has 21 this season with Louisville and seven have come against Toledo. On Monday, one of his two homers cleared the scoreboard onto Monroe Street.
It reminded Parrish of a home run Hessman hit at Rochester in the 2006 Governors’ Cup finals. The Hens were down a run and the pitcher planted a breaking ball on the outside edge. Somehow, Hessman extended and hooked a towering shot off the left-field foul pole.
The Hens won the game and a couple nights later came home to clinch their second championship in as many seasons before another delirious, packed house.
“Back in the mid-2000s, there wasn’t a better place to be,” Parrish said. “This facility, the fans, it was all just great. So were the players, and players make a manager, not the other way around. The years we won the championship were special. They can’t take those memories away.”
The back-to-back titles, oddly enough, were produced by completely different types of teams. The 2005 squad had some very talented, very hungry young players who meshed from opening day and did just about everything well. Parrish said it was a tight-knit group, very easy to manage.
“Here’s all you need to know about ’05,” he said. “We had three or four guys who pitched or played for us early and then got called up to Detroit. We had a night playoff game when the Tigers had a day game. Those guys all drove down from Detroit and sat on the bench rooting us on. You just don’t see that.”
Parrish said the ’06 team was like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: “You never knew what you were getting. I think we struck out 1,200 times as a team. But every time that team looked like it was coming apart those guys found a way to kick it into gear.”
It also showed how versatile Parrish was as a manager. He admitted that the second title may have been more gratifying. The ’05 team was often a matter of filling in the lineup card and letting it play out.
But there was nothing easy about managing that ’06 team except, perhaps, on those nights Hessman launched a couple.
There’s nothing easy about his current job either. After a season as hitting coach with Atlanta and a subsequent year out of baseball, Parrish is back in the Tigers’ organization as manager of the Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps.
He has been reminded that young players stepping onto the first rung of the pro baseball ladder often don’t know what they don’t know.
“You know how good teams bunch hits? We bunch errors,” Parrish said. “I’ve got an infielder who has one a day, just like a vitamin.”
Sager and Durham chuckled at that one.
Hessman heard a lot of those lines back when Parrish presided over the heyday of Hens’ success.
“It’s awesome he is getting the recognition for what he has done in this city,” Hessman said. “He’s a great man and a great manager.”
Contact Blade sports columnist
Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.