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Published: Sunday, 7/27/2008

Team won t forget its Olympians

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
The bat of the Mud Hens  Jeff Larish was sawed off in his hands in the fourth inning of last
night s game with Pawtucket. He did not get a hit in this time at-bat, but later collected one. The bat of the Mud Hens Jeff Larish was sawed off in his hands in the fourth inning of last night s game with Pawtucket. He did not get a hit in this time at-bat, but later collected one.
JEREMY WADSWORTH / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

The bat of the Mud Hens Jeff Larish was sawed off in his hands in the fourth inning of last night s game with Pawtucket. He did not get a hit in this time at-bat, but later collected one.

In a few days, the clubhouse crew for the Mud Hens will close the lockers of Mike Hessman and Blaine Neal. They plan to cover the lockers with wood, then make the wood look like an American flag.

The symbolism is obvious: the lockers of the two Mud Hens that will represent the United States in the 2008 Olympics will be unused while they play in Beijing.

Both players look forward to all the opportunities the Olympic experience will afford them.

My dad and my uncle were in China twice, and they just loved it, Hessman said. They had a good time over there, saw a bunch of cities and things like that.

I ve always been the adventure-type, so I m looking forward to going and seeing different things.

Both players said earning a spot on the Olympic team was something they never considered until about a month ago.

I was worried about getting a job in March, Neal said. But I ve been lucky to play with a team that has had great success, and that has allowed me to have some success.

And then the Olympic thing came up.

Hearing about the Olympic team certainly was exciting. Hess and I both talked about how cool it would be to be on the team, and finding out I was on the team was the ultimate thrill.

Hessman and Neal said their excitement grew as the date of the announcement drew closer.

At the beginning I didn t know what to expect, Hessman said. As the decision came closer, it was something I became more anxious and excited about. It s something I really wanted to do.

Getting the call to be a part of this really is something special.

They will remain with the team until tomorrow, when they will fly to California to join their teams. After a brief orientation period the team will play a series of exhibition games against the Canadian Olympic in Durham, N.C., before traveling to Beijing.

They are expected to return to the Mud Hens on Aug. 25.

It s just something about representing your country and wearing that flag across your chest, Hessman said. It s just something to be proud of.

Both were honored in a ceremony before yesterday s game, during which Mud Hens general manager Joe Napoli and manager Larry Parrish handed the pair Olympic jerseys and caps.

I think I can speak for Hess when I say that, to get this type of honor, it s very special, Neal said. To get the chance to wear that uniform with the flag across your chest is an honor.

First, I ve never really been out of the country. Then to see the ceremonies and events that you see on TV is something to look forward to as well.

THREE-DOT DATA: The home run by Perez gives him at least one hit in eight straight games. Last night s crowd of 11,158 was the Mud Hens 21st sellout this season, the 196th full house in the seven-year history of Fifth Third Field.



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