Will Hesslink is a transfer graduate student who will be pitching for the baseball team. GOJASPERS/COURTESY
By Christine Nappi, Senior Writer
Baseball has always been a constant in Will Hesslink’s life. Although the sport wasn’t too popular in his chilly Vermont hometown, Hesslink was always surrounded by it. His father, a big baseball fan, would take him to the field often to throw the ball around and practice batting.
Inspired by his dad’s love for the game, Hesslink discovered a passion for playing baseball at a young age and has pursued it ever since. Now, he’ll continue his career as a pitcher on Manhattan College’s baseball team.
Before coming to Manhattan, Hesslink pitched for Boston College during his undergraduate years. With another year of eligibility due to the pandemic, Hesslink transferred to Manhattan as a graduate student to explore more opportunities to play the game. Transferring onto a new team is no easy feat, but Hesslink saw an opportunity to fully pursue his passion for baseball at Manhattan.
“I wanted to switch up the opportunities that I was given there [at Boston College],” Hesslink said. “I love the coaches there, and the players and the team, but it just sort of wasn’t a perfect match as far as me baseball-wise. So it was kind of time to move on and try to start something different.”
Hesslink describes Manhattan baseball as being the “perfect fit” for what he was looking for. As he says, head coach Mike Cole and assistant coach Chris Cody are giving him the chances to play that he’s looking for.
Manhattan’s season began in late February and got off to a bit of a rocky start. Opening weekend, the team secured a win against the University of Delaware and did not see another win until March when they played Fairleigh Dickinson.
Hesslink describes that the teams they faced at the start of the season were at an advantage for being from warmer areas like Florida or South Carolina, as they can consistently practice outside, unlike Manhattan. Hesslink says the first two weekends helped the team get back into the swing of things. As of April 8th, the team currently has a record of 13-12.
“The first two weekends, really are kind of an adjustment and getting back used to being outside and actually playing baseball,” Hesslink said. “I think the team’s coming together really strong right now and between pitching and hitting we’re firing at all cylinders right now.”
Hesslink’s proudest accomplishment with the team thus far is securing an 11-1 win against the University of Delaware on opening weekend in February. Pitching a total of six innings, this was Hesslink’s first college start as a pitcher and first college win. According to the MAAC conference-only overall statistics, Hesslink has an ERA of 3.32, making him the fifth highest-ranked pitcher out of 27 others in the conference. He has the third-highest ERA of all pitchers on Manhattan’s team. This season, Hesslink has a win-loss record of 3-4, has pitched 42 innings, and tallied 37 strikeouts.
This past week, Hesslink received the MAAC League Leader award for pitching a complete game against St. Johns on March 11.
According to the MLB glossary, “the league leaders in complete games are pitchers who can keep their pitch count low and avoid walks,” which is something that takes “major effort” as pitchers tend to get fatigued toward the end.
Before pitching for Manhattan, Hesslink used to take his warm-up rituals very seriously. In the bullpen, he’d be “locked-in” the zone. But now, Hesslink sees the value in having fun on the field while also keeping your head in the game.
When stepping onto the mound Hesslink remains extremely focused, throwing each pitch with great intention, yet between batters, he’ll “keep it light-hearted,” and joke with his teammates before refocusing and firing down home plate again.
“As I’ve gotten older [I’ve] gotten better at being able to channel when to be very focused and when to kind of have times where I can let loose and still be talkative and be a good teammate,” Hesslink said. “I have to refocus for the next batter but also just [to] keep it loose for the rest of the guys, make sure that [we’re] still having fun out there.”
Hesslink is one of eight transfer students on the team, in addition to freshmen newcomers. Given the number of players who had just begun playing for Manhattan, Hesslink describes that the team spent most of the fall getting to know each other before they would play as one unit together in the spring. He describes that the increasing team camaraderie helps deliver the Jaspers to victory.
“It’s a really close group of guys right now,” Hesslink said. “You can sort of see, even from the time I got here in the fall till now, the team has gotten a lot closer and you can see how the culture is changing, it’s more of a winning culture with a whole group of guys going together in one direction, which is great. It’s been awesome, on and off the field just spending the time to get to know them all.”
Beyond the game, Hesslink is in the two-year MBA program for finance and economics. He’s interested in business and financial management, however, his future aspirations fall back to where it all began: baseball.
“[Playing] baseball is definitely the goal, it’s what I love to do,” Hesslink said. “So hopefully after my time here something can maybe work out [to keep playing]… but as of right now I’m kind of just focusing on having a good time with the boys and playing some baseball.”