Originally, this article was going to be a comparison between Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard. Sadly, Jayson Stark beat me to the punch. While I had some things to add, I decided to focus on Fielder and tell a more personal story instead of another statistics-heavy post. I am a long-suffering Brewers fan (though not this hard core) and Fielder has been my favorite player for quite a long time.
The year was 2002 and it was another tough one. The team finished dead last in the National League and lost 106 games. The minor league system, while improving, still was in the bottom half of the league. With their first pick, seventh overall in the draft the Brewers picked a high school slugger named Prince Fielder. This pick wasn’t well received by people who know the draft. John Sickels, who then was writing for ESPN.com on the side, had this to say about Fielder in an article breaking down the 2002 draft:
Prince also has an advanced understanding of the supper table, exceeding 300 pounds at times. He’s down to 250 now, thanks to a strict diet and training regimen pushed by his father. Scouts worry that he won’t be able to keep the weight off, which would likely limit him to DH duty in the long run. Few doubt he’ll hit for power, perhaps even more than Dad did. This pick may have been a stretch at No. 7, in that there were more balanced players available.
In the book Moneyball, far less kind things were written about Fielder:
Prince Fielder is too fat for even the Oakland A’s. Of no other baseball player in the whole of North America can this be said.
As a Brewers fan, I had been disheartened slightly by the pick, but because the big league team was so terrible and the minor league systems was void of true impact players, Fielder went to the top of the list of players I followed. Fielder signed quickly and was assigned to rookie ball in the Pioneer League. Kevin Goldstein, who at this point was on his own compiling the prospect report, kept me informed of Fielder’s progress—and what progress it was. Fielder destroyed rookie ball to the tune of .390/.531/.678 in 41 games. This was very impressive for an 18-year-old. By the end of the year he was promoted to the Midwest League and would be coming to a stadium near me.
A few weeks later, I got to see Fielder play for the first time in person, ironically against the A’s team containing several of the college players from the 2002 draft. I got to the stadium early that day and walked over to Prince, who had just hit his first home run in A-ball the night before. Up close, compared to his teammates, he looked like a man among boys. His arms were bigger than my thighs, but he didn’t look fat—he just looked huge. I asked him to sign a ball and we chatted for a few minutes about the homer.
Fielder was over-matched that day and went one-for-five, but that one hit was sure memorable. It was a hot shot down the first base line. Okay, actually it was a jam job that trickled down the line, but the memorable part was Fielder’s reaction. He bolted out of the box, busted his butt down the line and eked out the infield hit. This didn’t seem like an overweight slugging machine; this was a guy who really cared about the game and played his heart out. The next night I was treated to a now-classic Fielder moon shot, opposite field just over the 355 sign. I was hooked. I had a new favorite player.
Over the next few years I attended as many games as I could, watching Prince grow as a player. When I couldn’t see him play and when the Brewers were off, I would listen to games on the Internet. When Prince was in Double-A, he had a memorable collision with a catcher on a play at the plate. Robert Portnoy (who now works for the Isotopes) was just going nuts on the air and I couldn’t contain my excitement.
Many highly touted prospects simply would have slid or avoided the catcher. After all, this was just a “meaningless” Double-A game. Not Fielder. This pure love of the game and competitive fire have been shown time and time again. Just look at his inside the park home run last season against the Twins. Sure, it was incredibly lucky, and humorous, but if not for his hustle around the bases he might have gotten only a double out of it.
Anyway, back to the story. In 2005, he was called up, first as a DH for interleague play and later in the season when he split time at first with Lyle Overbay. I, and other Brewers fans, witnessed his first career homer run at Miller Park in June against the Twins.
These past few years, when I have been able to watch a huge number of Brewers games thanks to MLB.TV, I have watched him grow as a player and a leader to the point that this 23-year-old now is the heart and the face of the team.