There hasn't been much communication between Mike Hessman, Blaine Neal, and the Mud Hens they left behind for the Beijing Olympics.
But when Hessman and Neal return to Toledo after their stint with Team USA later this month, their Triple-A teammates will be eager to hear their tales from the Far East.
Of the Hens players polled yesterday by The Blade, only infielder Jeff Larish had heard from Hessman or Neal since they left Toledo to join Team USA July 28. Larish said he exchanged text messages with Hessman Aug. 4 - the night Hessman hit two homers in Team USA's 17-5 exhibition victory over Team Canada in Durham, N.C.
"He sent me a text just to see how everybody was doing, and I was asking him how it was going there," Larish said.
Brent Clevlen, an all-star outfielder, said he saw Hessman and Neal on TV during NBC's coverage of the opening ceremony Friday night. Clevlen said he could see their faces as they entered the stadium with the other American Olympic athletes.
"That would be pretty sweet to be over there," Clevlen said.
Ian Ostlund, a Hens reliever and friend to both Hessman and Neal, said he's sent text messages to them since they left for China but hasn't heard anything back. He said Hessman consulted him before departing the Hens about purchasing a digital camcorder.
"I can't wait to hear their
stories when they come back," Ostlund said. "We'll all be gathered around watching those videos."
Hessman, Toledo's all-star third baseman, and Neal, the Hens' all-star closer, both saw action in Team USA's four exhibition games against Team Canada before leaving for Beijing. Hessman went 3-for-13 with three homers and six RBIs, and Neal allowed a run on a hit in 11/3 innings (two appearances).
Team USA will begin Olympic play Wednesday against Korea. Pool play will continue through Aug. 20, and the medal rounds take place Aug. 22-23.
LAST LOOK: Jim Olander, in Toledo for the Hens' series against Norfolk, is the last of the Tigers' four major league scouts to watch the Hens play this season.
The Tigers have each of their big league scouts watch their Double-A, Triple-A and major league clubs play a few games each year to assist in making decisions on September call-ups and the next season's 40-man roster.
TURNAROUND: Hens pitcher Virgil Vasquez, who is scheduled to start the finale of Toledo's four-game series against the Tides tonight, is 1-4 with an 8.96 ERA in his last five starts.
Of those five outings, his last two were definite improvements from the first three.
He tossed seven shutout innings on Aug. 1 in a 3-0 win over Indianapolis, and surrendered four runs on nine hits in six innings in an 8-4 loss to Louisville last week.
In a three-game stretch from July 17-27, Vasquez allowed 22 runs (18 earned) on 24 hits in 91/3 innings.
The right-hander is 7-12 with a 5.14 ERA overall this year.
- Joe Vardon