Family keeps Prince grounded
Brewers slugger looks to maintain stellar performance
PHOENIX -- Prince Fielder is one of the most famous baseball players in the world, a former first-round Draft pick-turned-perennial MVP candidate with a couple of All-Star appearances and a Home Run Derby crown to his credit. He's starred in a McDonald's commercial as a kid and seen himself on the cover of a video game as an adult.Good stuff, but none of it matters when Fielder comes home to his two young sons. "At home he's just Dad," said Fielder's wife, Chanel. "The kids, they don't really get that he's famous. In the offseason, he's the one who gets them ready in the morning and takes them to school. Then he goes to work during the day and picks them up. After school, they're out in the yard playing baseball or on the couch playing video games. He's just like the other dads." Most dads don't blast upper-deck home runs for a living -- like the long homer Fielder belted off left-hander Chuck Lofgren in Wednesday's intrasquad game -- but 5-year-old Jadyn and 3-year-old Haven don't know that yet. They also don't know how important they are to their daddy's baseball career. The kids have been regulars at Maryvale Baseball Park this spring. On Wednesday, Jadyn, who is already picking up his dad's knack for imitating batting stances, ate his lunch at a clubhouse table surrounded by big leaguers while Dad prepared for the game. It's the start of a routine that will continue all summer; Chanel and the kids follow the Brewers throughout the season. "Sometimes the guys get on me about it," Prince Fielder said. "But everybody knows that's how it goes in my house. They're always with me because it's good for me. It keeps me happy." The girl who would become Chanel Fielder remembers the day she met her future husband, a shy, quiet 14-year-old who was a year younger than she and attended the Florida Air Academy, a military boarding school in Melbourne, Fla. Chanel went to a nearby public school and didn't know about Prince's Major League dad, or that this quiet kid was himself quite a hitter. They started as friends. "Everybody was always trying to push us together and it just never happened," Chanel said. "As the years went on, we always ended up back on each other's radar."
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They were dating by the time the Brewers selected Fielder in the first round of the 2002 Draft. Chanel thought that was the end of the relationship; she had seen other kids from the area go into professional baseball only to flame out, and she was not interested in that ride. She went to nursing school instead.But they continued to see each other off and on during the offseason until 2003, when Fielder was coming off a record-setting season at Class A Beloit and decided to get serious. They were married in 2005. "He really hasn't changed much. If anything, he's become more grounded," Chanel Fielder said. "Ever since I met him, he never portrayed this image of the spoiled rich kid. Maybe when he got drafted he got a little 'big league,' I'm not going to lie. He got the big Escalade. But for the most part baseball is his job, and then when he comes home he's 'dad' and 'husband' and he's not 'Prince Fielder.'" Someday, the boys will find out that Daddy is very good at what he does. Prince Fielder turns 26 in May and is already a career .284 hitter with 160 home runs and 453 RBIs since breaking into the big leagues in June 2005. He set a Brewers record with 50 home runs in 2007 but his best season was 2009, when Fielder batted a career-best .299, belted 46 home runs to fall one shy of Albert Pujols' Major League-best total and tied Ryan Howard for the RBI crown, with 141. That was a Brewers record, and Fielder also set a club mark by walking 110 times. You can argue a very strong case that it was the best season in the Brewers' 41 seasons as a franchise, and it begs the question of what Fielder could possibly do for an encore. His answer: Try to repeat.
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"I think the big thing is trying to maintain," Fielder said. "It's not always about how a big of a season you can have, but keeping it going from season to season. Does that make any sense? Like, a guy who hits .350 one year is not going to hit .350 every year. But .330 is still pretty good."Part of Fielder's success has been his ability to stay on the field in the first place. The Brewers were panned by some Draft watchers when they made Fielder the seventh overall pick in 2002, conceding that he could hit but arguing that such a big young man couldn't handle the grind of professional baseball. All Fielder has done is average 150 games during his seven full professional seasons, including a 2009 in which he was the only Major Leaguer to play all of his team's games. Fielder didn't just play; he started all 162 Brewers games and manned first base for all but four innings. "I had [Miguel] Tejada do that," said Brewers manager Ken Macha said, referring to his last job in Oakland. "What do you have to do in order to do that? First, you have to be disciplined enough to keep yourself in shape. That's No. 1. No. 2, you have to go out there and produce. You can't be 0-for-50 and the manager says, 'I'm going to give you a day off.' "The third thing is that you've got to be mentally tough. To me, it's a huge example for guys when they come to the big leagues. This guy, he runs the ball out. ... You get that effort every day. He went from 17 errors in '08 to seven errors last year. That just doesn't happen, you have to work at your game. The intensity with which he treats each at-bat is off the charts. "That," Macha added, "is your leader." Chanel Fielder called her husband's three-hour-a-day offseason workout regimen "insane" and said those who project him as a 27- or 28-year-old designated hitter "break my heart." The outside opinions are likely to keep on coming as Prince Fielder inches closer to free agency. He's entering the second season of a two-year contract and then will have one more year of arbitration eligibility before hitting free agency in October 2011.
Position analysis• Manager
• Third base
• Second base
• Left field
• Center field
• Right field
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.