TigsTown: Kicking things off here, you got the assignment to go play Hawaii Winter Baseball; sounds like a real tough break having to spend your fall playing baseball in Hawaii.
Andrew Hess: Yeah! That's kind of what I was thinking too. It is pretty cool getting paid to go play baseball in Hawaii. I wasn't really expecting that call. I knew that I had had a pretty good end to the season, but I didn't foresee any call like this coming. It was definitely kind of a shock to me, but I'm treating it like an honor. Performing well out there in this little stint could mean a lot for next year.
TT: Did they send you out there with any instructions or things they wanted you to focus on or really work on improving heading into next spring?
AH: Kind of the same things I struggled with a bit at the beginning of the year, that I corrected and got better at toward the end of the year. Early in the season I was leaving some balls up, but then I made that adjustment; getting the ball down, getting some more movement, and getting a lot more groundballs. I'm just going to try to continue to do that, and just attack guys with my fastball and see how many outs I can get with that. If for some reason that fails, I'll go to my second and third pitches.
TT: You mentioned some struggles you were having at the beginning of year getting the ball down and things like that, but overall, what did you think of your first full season of professional baseball?
AH: I had a lot of fun! It's a job, but at the same time you have to have some fun doing it, so that's how I looked at it. I think at the beginning, I was a little too relaxed. I wasn't sure what to expect, and it took me a little while to find my groove. Once I did though, I really felt like I belonged out there. It was a great experience, and I'm looking forward to a couple more good years.
TT: I don't know how familiar you may have been, but you arrive in West Michigan and they have a history of winning. Following the lead of what Matt Walbeck and Tommy Brookens had done there, and now you have Joe DePastino in there; did you feel any kind of pressure or expectations for a winning ball club?
AH: No. Not really. Everything there is a real family atmosphere. The fans there are so good. They understand what minor league baseball is all about. Especially with the team we had this year, I think we had sixty-some transactions. There was almost a new guy every game. They are used to winning, and they are used to being on top, but the fan support the whole year was great. Nobody really doubted us when things got down. Joe did a great job of keeping the team together, keeping it fun, and keeping it relaxed.
TT: I know the guy on the coaching staff that I've talked to is Mark Johnson, your Pitching Coach. How was it working with him? Did you have a good relationship with him throughout the year?
AH: Yeah, I think we did. Mark was our go-to-guy. He'd tell us what we needed to do. He'd tell us straight sometimes, and that's what you need to do. That's how I liked it. He did a really good job of managing us, and showing us what we needed to do to continue our careers as professional baseball players.
TT: Having talked with AJ Sager up at Toledo, one of the things he prides himself on is not just being the Pitching Coach, but also on being a mentor, and teaching you guys the ropes as far as professional baseball goes, and being there for you if anything goes wrong; whether it be performance, a family thing, or a girlfriend, anything. Did Mark try and fill that role for you as well?
AH: Definitely. He's all about trying to develop as players and as people. He's been there. He knows the ropes. He knows what going through this life is like. He would sit us down every now and then, and just talk to us like that. If you were doing something that isn't favorable in the eyes of the organization, he'd sit you down and tell you about it. It's not something that all coaches have to do, but he'd take the time out to talk to you about it, because he knows that it will benefit you.
TT: Moving away from the coaching staff, and more to what you bring to the table as a pitcher; some readers out there may not be familiar with your stuff or what you're trying to do on the mound. You talked a little about it earlier, but can you give a detailed description of what you think your stuff is like and what your approach is on the mound?
AH: I really like to go right at hitters. I look to establish my fastball, and I think that is more of the starter mentality in me. I haven't quite found an identity in the organization yet, whether I'm going to be a starter or a reliever. That doesn't bother me though, because I fit well into both roles. I really like to go at guys, work down in the zone, and let the natural movement on my ball help me out a little bit. I'm more of a pitch to contact kind of guy. I try to make the hitters beat me. I had a lot of success throwing a lot of strikes early in the count. My control is one of my keys, and I really try to throw the ball in there, and just go from there.
TT: Changing gears a bit, you spent a good part of the year blogging about your experiences. How was that?
AH: That was actually really cool! I'd never done anything like that. I had sports media class in college that kind of introduced me to things like that. That was a lot of fun, just to document my experience, and judging by some of the feedback I got, a lot of other people liked it as well. I think it helped take a bit of the edge off for me, just being able to write about things and talk about it.
TT: My Executive Editor, Paul, he and I have a bit of a rivalry because he is a Michigan graduate, and I'm actually a Michigan State fan. Did you have any kind of rivalry with Ronnie Bourquin (Ohio State) this year?
AH: More just kind of a friendly, joking rivalry you could say. We'd go back and forth about Michigan and Ohio State once in a while, but with both of us having played in that rivalry against each other, it was more friendly than hate. It's all respect. We did get into it a few times though.
TT: Did you face Ronnie at all in college?
AH: I did.
TT: How'd you do against him?
AH: My record was two-and-o against the Buckeyes, so I think that speaks for itself.
TT: Now, there's another Michigan Wolverine in the system in Jeff Kunkel, did you have a chance to throw to him at all this year, maybe in spring training?
AH: A little bit in the spring. Jeff and I actually worked out in the off-season, because he lives in Ann Arbor. That was actually really good for me, because he really helped me out in terms of what to expect heading into my first spring training and my first full season.
TT: I understand you're a life long Tiger fan. You grew up in that mold, and it's never left you. How does it feel to play for the team that you've rooted for all these years?
AH: It really hasn't hit me yet. Whenever I go down and get to put on that uniform that has the ‘D' on it, that means a little something special to me. Dreaming about playing for the Tigers has been in my head since I went to my first game at old Tiger Stadium. The only regret is that I won't be able to play in that ballpark. Really, it couldn't be a better situation for me right now.
TT: I always like to give the person I'm interviewing the last word. Is there anything that you want to close with?
AH: It's just been a lot of fun this year. I'm definitely going to work hard, because making the Major Leagues is obviously a goal!