Fielder is the complete package
Slugger provides power and leadership for Brewers
MILWAUKEE -- With Prince Fielder, the Milwaukee Brewers have hit the daily double; tangibles and intangibles, 50 home runs and a remarkable level of maturity for a 23-year-old in any walk of life.
The tangible half of the Fielder factor was on display again on Tuesday night, as the Brewers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals, 9-1. Fielder hit his 49th and 50th home runs, a pair of two-run shots. The Brewers climbed back to two games behind the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. Hope lived on for the Milwaukee club and Fielder continued to be a major part of the resurgence.
In the process, Fielder became the youngest player in Major League history to hit 50 home runs in a season. The youngest previously had been Willie Mays, at age 24 in 1955. "I told the boys, 'You're watching a little history --remember it,'" Brewers manager Ned Yost said.
"It's cool. It's cool for my kids," Fielder said of this season's monster numbers. "When they grow up, they can say: 'My Dad was good at one time.'"
In the spotlight, Fielder has revealed a nature that is both whimsical and driven. He has a dry sense of humor that he can turn upon himself. But he is driven by the slights that he perceived at the time he was drafted in 2002. In his recollection, some of the so-called experts said he was too heavy. Others suggested that he was catching a break only because he was Cecil Fielder's son.
Comparisons with his father persistently bothered Prince, particularly since the two have been estranged. On what was otherwise a feel-good occasion, his 50th home run, Fielder made certain that the distance between himself and his father was made clear to one and all.
When Prince Fielder was asked if he was going to keep the 50th home run ball, he said he wasn't interested in keeping this ball. But if he hit 52, he would keep that ball. Why?
"My Dad hit 51," Fielder said. "If I hit 52, he can't say anything to me."
Asked about the possibility of winning the MVP, a possibility that seems to grow daily, Fielder said that would be fine, and then added this:
"My Dad never won it, so that's one more thing. Shut him up again."
At one point, referring to his father, Fielder said: "Let's be honest, he's not really the brightest guy."
Fielder was asked if he was kidding with these comments regarding his father. "That's serious," Fielder responded, and he left no room for doubt.
Around the Brewers, Fielder is regarded with a blend of respect and admiration. Tuesday night's winning pitcher, Jeff Suppan, referred to him variously as "charismatic" and "a true professional." Fortunately for all involved parties, Fielder wears his status lightly enough.
When a comment was made to him about his maturity on Tuesday, Fielder responded:
"See, I have two kids. I have to grow up sometime." That was good. It was funny. It was at least mildly self-deprecating. It is possible that Prince Fielder has this whole baseball, league-leading slugger, acclamation-from-all-corners thing in perspective.
When Fielder hit his 46th home run, he broke the Brewers franchise record previously held by Richie Sexson and Gorman Thomas. But on Monday night, when he hit his 48th, he broke the Milwaukee record of 47, set by Eddie Mathews in 1953 for the Braves.
"It's cool, [Mathews] is a Hall of Famer," Fielder said. "It's great, but to me, I used to see my dad do well, but he won just one time. To me, he had all those good years and he only won once. I just never wanted to do that. You have good years, but it's almost for nothing you know? In my opinion, winning is first. I want to be known as a winner."
After he hit No. 50 on Tuesday night, Fielder echoed the same theme. "To have a year like this on a winning team means a lot," he said.
This is not empty verbiage with Fielder. He has become, remarkably for his age, a team leader. The home runs are appreciated, but so is the all-out approach to the game.
"He has so much invested in this year, not only physically, but mentally, and spiritually, I guess you could say," manager Ned Yost said of Fielder.
"He's got that special quality, at 23 years old, where he walks the walk. He doesn't talk it, he walks it. Everything he does on that field sets an example.
"Watch him on a grounder to short. He busts his butt to get to first base, every time. Watch him on a popup to the outfield, he's sprinting to second base, every time. He's working hard on taking pitches up there. He's planning his approach. He's very focused and determined at the plate. He very seldom gives at-bats away. He's always on his toes.
"So if some guy hits a ball and jogs up the line, Prince can legitimately go up to him and say, 'Hey, bust your butt down that line.' And that guy can't say [anything] to Prince, because Prince does it, every time."
At age 23, Fielder has set himself apart from the rest of baseball history with the relentlessly repeated act of hitting home runs. But the Milwaukee Brewers, doubly fortunate in this regard, get much more than home runs in the complete package that is Prince Fielder.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.