Prince Semien Fielder was born on May 9, 1983 in Ontario, California. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) It seemed as if he was destined to be a big leaguer. At the time, his father was toiling in the minor league system of the Toronto Blue Jays. Prince was never far from a baseball diamond.
He was also constantly on the road. Prince, his younger sibling Ceclynn and their mother, Stacey, followed Cecil wherever his career took him. They often lived in small apartments with other baseball families.
Prince basically grew up in the clubhouses of different major league teams. He was playing ball as soon as he could walk. After Prince's fifth birthday, his father turned around his right-handed son and had him bat lefty, telling him that he’d thank him for it later. It turned out to be a great move, especially as Prince matured into a powerful teenager.
The Fielders found their most stable home in Detroit, settling there for three years while Cecil starred with the Tigers. The city was good to the the family. Prince attended middle school there and made history. As legend has it, at age 12 he hit a home run into the upper deck at old Tiger Stadium.
A year later, the Fielders were on the move again, this time to a new home in Melbourne, Florida. The 50-room mansion was a kid's dream. It included full-sized tennis and basketball courts and designated playrooms for both Prince and Ceclynn. Prince never ran out of activities around the house, whether it was the theater room or the enormous pool.
Still a Tiger, Cecil was in the midst of a great run after years of struggling to stick in the majors. He would end his 13-year career with 319 homers and more than 1,000 RBIs. Prince benefitted greatly from his father's All-Star status. Batting practice at Skydome, Tiger Stadium, and Yankee Stadium were regular occurences for him. The 1996 season was particularly memorable. Cecil joined the Yankees late in the season and won a championship with New York. Prince learned a great deal by watching rookie Derek Jeter, who worked as hard as any veteran on the club.
Despite his baseball pedigree, Prince considered pro hoops as a high schooler. But when he did a reality check, he realized his size and strength lent more favorably to baseball. From there on, he focused soley on his dad's vocation.
Prince developed his two-sided baseball demeanor at a young age. Before games, he was all smiles and jokes. When it was time to play ball, he was all business. As a teenager, Prince began to show flashes of the player he was going to be. A power hitter, he continued to gain strength as his body grew.
Prince entered Eau Gallie High School in the fall of 1998. By his sophomore year, he was the best hitter for the Commodores, but scouts were already skeptical. At close to 300 pounds, Prince was criticzed for being undisciplined and unathletic. Both were unfair characterizations.
Prince has a huge season in his senior year, batting .524 with 10 home runs. Noting his awesome power and no-nonsense attitude on the field, big league teams were now salivating over the youngster. The only concern was that Prince was all bat and no glove. Drafting a player who potentially couldn't field his position was a risk that scared some clubs away.
Prince was determined to change that perception. Cecil, acting as his son’s agent, hired a personal trainer for his son, helping him shave 60 pounds off of his big frame. More fit and lean, the teenager increased his speed and agility. Prince turned himself into a surefire first rounder.
ON THE RISE
Prince was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers was the seventh overall pick in June of 2002. Baseball America rated him as the draft's top first baseman and 24th best prospect overall. Milwaukee inked him to deal that included a $2.4 million signing bonus.
Prince enjoyed his time with Beloit. His roommate, Tony Gwynn, Jr., was also the son of a famous father, and the two became close friends. Prince worked hard on his game, spending extra hours with Snappers manager Don Money on his defense. As a consequence, he didn't hit as well. By year's end, however, the Brewers were happy with his progress.
As a reward for his fine first season, Milwaukee invited Prince to spring training with the big club in 2003. Though he knew he would be an early cut, the chance to play side-by-side with major leaguers was an invaluable experience. His father flew in to watch the exhibition games, charting his son’s development. Prince was elated with the opportunity before him.
He logged the entire '03 campaign with Beloit and battered Midwest League pitching. His final numbers—a .313 batting average, 27 home runs, 112 RBIs and a .526 slugging percentage—put him among the league leaders in every power category. In turn, he clearly established himself as one of the jewels of the Milwaukee farm system.
It was around this time that Prince's relationship with his father deteriorated. The two had been close, and Cecil always seemed to have his son's best interests at heart. But questionable behavior and poor business decisions put an increasingly large strain on the family. Prince ultimately chose to cut off contact with his dad. His mother—who remains an important part of his life—did not dissuade him.
Prince opened the 2004 campaign with Class-AA Huntsville and put up a strong first half. With a .256 average, 14 homers and 46 RBIs, Prince earned a spot in the Futures Game during the All-Star weekend. Just as impressive was his glove work. Prince didn't remind anyone of a Gold Glover, but he was getting to more balls and demonstrating soft hands around the bag.
Prince started 2005 with the Nashville Sounds of the Pacific Cost League. He broke from the gate on a tear. Fans got into the habit of coming to the ballpark early for his batting practice shows. During one session, he hammered a ball that was traveled an estimated 470 feet, clearing the outfield wall, trees, a picnic area, and a 10-foot high chain link fence.
In June, Prince got the call to join the Brewers. With interleague games set to begin, Milwaukee chose to use him as its DH in American League parks. He picked up his first hit against Hideo Nomo, and then later homered off Minnesota's Matt Crain for his first round-tripper. The Brewers sent him back to Nashville with the understanding that he'd be up again by season's end. That's exactly what happened, as Prince wound up hitting .288 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 59 at-bats in Milwaukee.
The Brewers had seen enough from Prince to know he was ready to be their everyday first baseman. To clear the spot for him, they dealt Lyle Overbay to Toronto. With the trade, the pressure on Prince heated up. Milwaukee hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1982. Prince was expected to bring much needed power to the middle of the lineup and end that drought.
Initially, he struggled mightily. Prince began the 2006 campaign hitless in his first 11 at-bats, striking out seven times. Fans at Miller Park were not dismayed. They rose to their feet when Prince walked to the plate, hoping to will their newest prospect to succeed. The support appeared to produce results. Prince snapped his slump with a game-winning bloop RBI single, and then got into a groove. He ended April hitting .344 with five homers and 16 RBIs, plus a .552 slugging percentage and a .400 on-base percentage.
For the majority of his rookie season, Prince let his bat do his talking. He hit a solid .271 with 28 home runs and 81 RBIs. While his numbers didn't blow anyone away, the way he went about his business did. Prince was quiet but hardly aloof. He listened to the advice that was given to him and worked hard in practice. Milwaukee's veterans sensed he was a special player.
Prince proved them right in 2007. Away from the field, his personality began to shine through. He became a valuable presence in the clubhouse and accepted more responsibility as a team leader.
When Prince was asked to take rookie third baseman Ryan Braun (six months his senior) under his wing, he gladly assumed the role of mentor. Prince showed the young slugger the ropes—and even offered him a little tough love when he got out of sorts. Not coincidentally, Braun posted one of the best rookie seasons in recent history.
Prince also got it done at the plate. Going into the All-Star break, he led the National League with 29 home runs. Fans acknowledged him with the second highest total of votes for the Mid-Summer Classic. In the process, Prince became only the eighth Brewer to start the All Star Game. He participated in the Home Run Derby at AT&T Park in San Francisco and launched a 455-foot moon shot, but he failed to make it out of the first round.
After a hot start, Milwaukee had surrendered a comfortable lead in the Central Division in the standings to the Chicago Cubs. Everyone on the roster, manager Ned Yost included, was feeling the noose tightening. Even Prince’s temper got the best of him. He went ballistic in an August game during a faceoff with plate umpire Wally Bell over a called third strike. Prince was suspended for three games.
Prince responded with a scintilating September. In 90 at-bats, he batted .333 and slammed 11 homers. Alas, it wasn't enough for the sputtering Brewers, who finished two games behind the Cubs and out of the playoffs.
Of al the potential scapegoats for the Brewers, no one blamed Prince for Milwaukee's collapse. On the contrary, he was one of the leading candidates for National League MVP. And in a season where home run totals fell in both leagues, Prince hit 50 long balls and drove in 119 runs. Both numbers rivaled the best single-season production in his dad's career.
Prince took a slight step backwards during the 2008 campaign. He didn’t seem to get into gear until the final month, when he absolutely exploded. His final numbers were respectable—.276 average, 34 homers, 102 RBIs—but the big news in September was the firing of Yost in the midst of the Wild Card race.
Coach Dale Sveum took over and guided the club to a 90–72 record and Milwaukee's first postseason appearance in 26 seasons. Braun turned in an exceptional sophomore performance and mid-season pickup C.C. Sabathia was amazing, winning 11 of his 13 decisions for the club. Unfortunately, the Brewers ran out of steam in October. They lost in the NLDS to the Phillies in four games. Philadelphia pitchers completely shut Prince down, limiting him to one hit—albeit a homer—in 14 at-bats.
Going into 2009, Prince and the Brewers were headed to arbitration before they agreed on a two-year, $18 million contract. The new deal did wonders for his performance. Prince was an RBI machine all year long. He finished with 141, shattering the club mark of 126, held by Cecil Cooper. He also surpassed Cecil’s career high of 133.
Cooper got to witness his record fall—he was across the diamond managing the Houstn Astros when Prince got his 127th RBI. Prince’s total tied him for the NL lead with Ryan Howard. His 46 homers were second-best in the league. As for the Brewers, they dropped to third place with an 80–82 record.
Milwaukee regressed again in 2010. Prince was partly responsible, as he had the worst start of his career. In fact, he went 54 at-bats before hitting his first home run.He picked up his performance as the year wore on, but the Brewers never got a sniff of the division lead, finishing 77–85. The problem was primarily pitching. Outside of Yovanni Gallardo, the starters were atrocious.
Prince did not come close to matching his 2009 numbers, though he did lead the team with 32 home runs and 114 walks. The stat that really stood out was his RBI total. He drove in just 83 runs. For the first time in a long time, Prince failed to hit in the clutch. He batted just .212 with two out and runners in scoring position. Opposing teams refused to pitch to him in those situations. He was good about taking walks, but at times he swung at bad pitches out of frustration.
The Brewers controlled Prince through the 2011 season. They avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $15.5 million deal. It set a new record for a one-year contract given to a player prior to free agency.
The team entered the year with a win-now all-or-nothing approach, as witnessed by trades for pitching stars Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum, plus the acquisition of veteran shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. With a $90 million payroll, the Brewers were under intense pressure to win. Prince indicated that he might not re-sign with the team for 2012, meaning that he would almost certainly be traded if the club fell out of contention before the July 31st trade deadline.
MAKING HIS MARK
Prince got off to a roaring start, taking the early league lead in RBIs. He adjusted his approach at the plate, taking what pitchers gave him and drilling balls to center and left that he had tried to pull to right in the past. It was the sign of a maturing hitter—a hitter who was entering the prime years of his career. Prince got his average back to where it had been in 2009 and was basically a .300 hitter the rest of the way. Opposing hurlers soon learned that he couldn't be snookered into chasing bad balls, and his intentional passes began piling up.
By the All-Star break, the Brewers were in a three-way battle for the NL Central lead. In the Midseason Classic, Prince started at first base and batted cleanup. In the bottom of the 4th inning, he erased a 1–0 deficit when he slugged a C.J. Wilson pitch over the fence with Carlos Beltran and Matt Kemp on base. The NL tacked on two more runs to win 5–1, and Prince was named All-Star MVP.
In the second half, Prince and Braun provided Milwaukee with baseball’s most potent one-two punch. Had the team shopped him near the trade deadline, the fans would have burned Miller Park to the ground. Prince astutely did not say whether he planned to leave or not after the season. He just wanted to enjoy the ride and make it to his first World Series.
Prince cracked nine homers in September to help the Brewers secure the division crown. On the next-to-last day of the season, he launched three home runs against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 6–4 win. He finished the year with 38 home runs, 120 RBIs and a .299 average. Prince drew over 100 walks for the third year in a row anddramatically cut his strikeout rate from 138 to 106.
In the NL DS, Milwaukee faced the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks. The Brewers took the first two games at home, but the D-backs evened the series to force a decisive Game 5 back in Miller Park. John Axford failed to hold a 2–1 lead in the top of the 9th, but the Brewers prevailed in the bottom of the 10th when Nyjer Morgan plated Carlos Gomez with a single up the middle.
Milwaukee’s luck did not hold out against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS. The teams split the first two games, with Prince homering in each. The series went to 2–2 before Milwaukee’s pitching fell apart. St. Louis took the final two games, 7–1 and 12–6, to win the pennant.
At that point, Prince’s departure from Milwaukee was all but assured. Rumors swirled about his potential landing places, and ironically St. Louis seemed like a good fit with Albert Pujols having flown the coop. In the end, the Tigers made the best offer. They signed him to a nine-year deal worth more than $200 million. Miguel Cabrera, the club’s presumptive first baseman, agreed to move back to third base to accommodate Prince’s glove and bat.
The Tigers had a well-balanced team heading into the 2012 campaign. They mixed youth and experience and had plenty of talented role players for manager Jim Leyland to move in and out of the lineup. Detroit’s starting pitching was superb, with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer racking up big strikeout numbers. Jose Valverde was the leader of a flame-throwing bullpen.
Tasked with learning the pitching patterns of a new league, Prince continued to show more plate discipline and became one of the game’s most complete hitters. He batted behind Cabrera in the four-hole in 161 of 162 games, and both sluggers turned in MVP-caliber seasons. Prince finished with 30 homers, 108 RBIs and a .313 average. Miggy, meanwhile, clearly enjoyed the protection provided by Prince and won the Triple Crown,the first player to do so in either league since Carl Yaztrzemski in 1967.
After a sluggish start, Detroit caught fire in July and kept pressure on the front-running Chicaco White Sox all summer long. They seized control of the American Leagu Central in the season’s final week, winning by three games. The Tigers faced the pesky Oakland A’s in the ALDS and won the first two games. Oakland battled back to tie the series. In Game, 4, Prince belted a home run to help Detroit build a 3-1 lead. Unfortunately, Valverde exploded in the ninth inning, as the A’s scored three runs to steal a win. The Tigers restored order in Game 5, as Verlander was at his best in a 6–0 victory.
The Tigers moved on to face the Yankees in the ALCS. New York sent Game 1 into extra innings with two dramatic home runs, but Detroit won the game in the 12th to seize the momentum in the series. Prince plated the first run of the series with a sharp single to center in the 6th inning, scoring Austin Jackson from third. That turned out to be his last RBI of the postseason.
The Tigers, however, got more than enough offense from the rest of the lineup to sweep the struggling Yankees. After Derek Jeter went down with an injury, Detroit took complete control. New York managed just two more runs over the next three games, as Detroit closed out the series on its home field. Delmon Young, who batted .353 with two homers and six RBIS, was voted the ALCS MVP. Prince was going to his first World Series!
The experience did not turn out to be a pleasant one. The Tigers waited five days for the series to start, as the San Francisco Giants needed all seven games in the NLCS to dispose of the Cardinals. The time off robbed Detroit of all its momentum. The series opened in San Francisco with Verlander on the mound for the Tigers. The Giants tyouched him up for five runs in four innings, setting the tone for a commnding sweep.
Prince was misreable at the plate for all four games. San Francisco pitchers tied him up with fastballs inside and got him to chase off-speed pitches in the dirt. He picked up just one hit in 14 at-bats and struck out four times. Prince kept a smile on his face for most of the series, but inside he was furstrated and disappointed.
Prince Fielder & Miguel Cabrera,
2012 Detroit Free Press
Despite the terrible finish to the 2012 campaign, fans in Detroit still have a lot to cheer about. Verlander has established himself as his league’s premiere starter. Cabrera is baseball’s most dangerous hitter. But he may not have risen to that level if it weren’t for Prince‘s bat in the lineup behind him. Pack in the 1990s, people joked that Cecil Fielder, who had spent part of his career in the Far East, was Detroit’s favorite japanese import. In Prince, the city now has a homegrown talent that is fueling the Tigers’ race for another world championship.
PRINCE THE PLAYER
Prince is not your father’s Fielder. He has a quick bat and the ability to hit for average and power while using all fields. Some sluggers of Prince’s stature are only pull hitters, which makes them easier to defend. Prince, however, can drive a pitch the other way with just as much authority.
While no one will confuse him with Keith Hernandez defensively, Prince has steadily improved his play at first in a path similar to that of Albert Pujols. Is there a Gold Glove in his future? Maybe not, but Prince is by no means a liability in the field.
With all of his accomplishments so far, it is Prince's effort and enthusiasm that really stand out. This combination of determination and childlike enthusiasm for the game helps keep Prince and his teammates motivated and loose.
Prince Fielder, 2012 Toppss
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