Now that Prince Fielder has signed a somewhat ludicrous 9 year (9 YEARS!), $214 million free agent contract with the Detroit Tigers, I feel compelled to mention that I’ve always liked Fielder. And I don’t use the word ‘always’ to mean that I’ve liked him ever since he hit 50 home runs as a 23 year old in 2007. Under the book definition of always, my original statement was barely even an exaggeration*. Like most of America (or maybe not), I grew to know Prince through my childhood infatuation with Cecil Fielder, the stocky former first baseman and designated hitter of the early 1990’s, ahem, Detroit Tigers.
*What kind of pitch did Prince throw his dad Cecil during the scintillating climax of that 1992 McDonald’s ad campaign? My gut told me that it was a pinpoint screwball, and Cecil’s obvious confusion during the strikeout backs up the assertion. But if Cecil was looking fastball, might Prince have fooled him with a bottom-dropping change up? I, for one, don’t believe that Cecil let Prince have the strikeout. He had just screamed at Prince to pitch the ball, and had already mentioned that he was about to go deep. Cecil did strike out 151 times in 1992, however, and may have been hindered by the fact that he was using what appeared to be a miniature souvenir bat.
Cecil was a true original. Listed at 6’3” and a generous 230 pounds, he was the perfect pre-steroid era home run hitter. He possessed prodigious power, always seemed to have a smile on his face, set a record for most games played before stealing his first base, and was built like Sonic the Hedgehog villain Dr. Egghead.
The affable Fielder also had a winding journey to the top that was easy for the average American to appreciate. He was drafted by the Royals, incidentally, in the fourth round of the 1982 MLB draft. After putting up a 1.062 OPS in rookie league, they traded his rights to the Toronto Blue Jays for the immortal Leon Roberts. After failing to earn regular playing time in Toronto by 1988, Fielder took a leap of faith. He took an offer in Japan; where MLB careers go to die. Only for Fielder, it didn’t work out that way. Playing in Japan’s Central League in 1989, he hit 38 home runs. In 1990, he hit 51 home runs for the Detroit Tigers. At that time 50 h0me runs was a landmark; there was a certain mysticism to the figure. He was the first to hit the 50 homer plateau since George Foster in 1977, and was only the 11th player in the history of major league baseball to accomplish the feat. Conversely, 15 players have hit 50 or more home runs in a season since 1992, including Brady Anderson, Greg Vaughn, and Luis Gonzalez. 1990 was a different time.
It never seemed like Cecil Fielder would have an equal. And then his son Prince grew up.
When Prince Fielder became available for the MLB draft in 2002, I desperately wanted the Royals to take him with their 6th overall pick. I’ll admit it wasn’t logic or a scout’s eye that led me to this hope. In my eyes, Fielder had three big things going for him: 1). He was Cecil Fielder’s son, and as such was destined for greatness, 2). He had, unquestionably, the coolest name of any potential first round pick, and 3). He was pretty much the only potential draftee I had ever heard of before.
The Royals ended up going with some guy named Zack Greinke*, and ended up no worse for the wear. Fielder was ultimately taken with the 7th pick by the Milwaukee Brewers, and that worked out pretty well for them too.
In the coming years I kept close track as his career progressed. How could I not? He was a tantalyzing prospect, a 5-11, 270 tank of a man. And did I mention that he was Cecil Fielder’s son?
In the summer 2005 I went on a Midwestern barnstorming tour of MLB stadiums, and Miller Park in Milwaukee was one of the stops. The Brewers had just called up a 21-year old Prince Fielder, who was their best prospect at the time. Fellow prospect Rickie Weeks had hit his first major league home run in the first inning, and there was a palpable electricity in the stadium*.
*The team had been down in recent years, way down. But their fan base could clearly sense a payoff on the horizon and were eagerly awaiting its arrival. The 2005 Brewers are not dissimilar from the 2011 Kansas City Royals, actually. After years of disappoint, they finally made rooting for the team fun again. The steady stream of fresh new (talented) faces served as their respective fans’ affirmation that their patience was paying off. They even shared a manager: Ned Yost.
So when Prince Fielder came up to the plate in the 6th inning (with two men on base) to pinch hit for the pitcher’s spot, the crowd went bonkers. They didn’t just hope for Fielder to hit a home run, or simply cheer for it. The crowd expected him to come through. And so he did.
Fielder didn’t even allow fans much nervous anticipation. He deposited the first pitch he saw well over the left-center field wall, putting Milwaukee ahead for good and catapulting himself squarely into the hearts and prayers of the Milwaukee faithful. He had also cemented his standing as my favorite non-Royal.
In the ensuing years, he turned into one of the best young players in the game. In 2007 Fielder joined Cecil in the 50-homer club, becoming the group’s first father-son duo. He made three all-star games, two postseason appearances, and seemed to have fun when he played the game. Rooting for Prince Fielder was a good time.
But that’s all past tense now. For the next nine years, ostensibly, Fielder will be haunting my dreams as a member of Cecil’s Detroit Tigers. I have my doubts about the wisdom of shelling out nine years to a 1B/DH type with a bad body, and I’ll point out just as soon as the next guy that Miguel Cabrera could be a travesty at third base, but let’s be real: I’m terrified of the Detroit Tigers now.
And it sucks that Prince Fielder might have to become my least favorite player.