Fielder receives Legacy Award
Slugger learns about Negro Leagues while in Kansas City
KANSAS CITY -- Prince Fielder might well have had other plans for this Saturday night in mid-January, but if Fielder did, his wife ordered him to rework his plans.
She told Fielder he would be at The Gem Theater this day to accept his Josh Gibson Legacy Award for leading the National League in home runs last season.
"As soon as I heard I was gonna get the award, I wanted to come right away," Fielder said. "My wife was excited, and I was just excited to be here."
Fielder said he felt proud that his name will be forever linked with Gibson's, one of the marquee names from "black baseball."
As a boy, Fielder remembered watching a movie about Gibson and Jackie Robinson with his father, former Major Leaguer Cecil Fielder.
"I told my dad, 'Gibson hit a lot of home runs,'" Prince Fielder said. "He was like, 'Yeah, you know.' I said, 'One day I hope to be able to hit a lot of home runs like that."
That one day came last season. The 23-year-old Fielder slugged 50 home runs for the Milwaukee Brewers, solidifying his reputation as one of the most feared young sluggers in baseball. His homers often were of the mammoth variety, which made the similarities to Gibson, a Hall of Fame catcher, more striking.
As Fielder waited to receive his Gibson Legacy, he got a chance to hear about Gibson and other stars from the Negro Leagues as he took his first tour of the museum, a block from where Rube Foster took a loose confederation of black teams in 1920 and turned them into the Negro Leagues.
Fielder was surprised at what he heard.
"There was a lot of stuff I didn't know," he said. "So it was cool just to be able to come in here and see the different things about it. Growing up, I did a report on Jackie, but I didn't know the whole Negro League story."
During the tour, he said he marveled at how the players could remain so upbeat in the face of all the obstacles they faced.
"They always had fun playing baseball," Fielder said. "That was the one place where nothing else mattered. That's kinda how I play, too. I play with a lot of passion. Whenever I'm on the field, nothing else matters. I'm just having fun."
He had plenty of fun in 2007. His big bat kept the Brewers, one of the emerging young ballclubs in the National League, in the playoff hunt deep into the season, and his big bat brought him his first Gibson Award.
Fielder can put it next to the Hank Aaron Award he won earlier in the offseason. He went to pick that one up as well.
"When I got the Hank Aaron Award, Alex [Rodriguez] wasn't there, and he got booed," Fielder said. "From that point on, I was like, I always wanna make sure if I get an award, I'm gonna be there."
His wife makes sure of that, too.
"For me, it's just an honor," he said. "I never wanna get to the point where I've won too many awards. I don't ever wanna be that guy."
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.