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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Goodnight Sweet Prince: Giving The Retiring Prince Fielder His Due

Texas Rangers slugging first baseman Prince Fielder has announced that he is retiring from Major League Baseball due to having recently undergone his second spinal fusion surgery in the past three years. He was a star for much of his 12 big league seasons but will likely not go down as an all-time great. That being said, he was a tremendous player who has never been fully appreciated for his influence and place in the game.

Built more like a nose tackle (generously listed at 275 pounds), the left-handed hitting Fielder seems like he has been around forever but in reality is leaving the game at the young age of 32. The son of another slugger, Cecil “Big Daddy” Fielder, he actually came into public view as a child because of his opportunity to grow up in a major league clubhouse. Always big for his age, he first came to prominence when he was able to hit home runs during batting practice at old Tiger Stadium as a 12-year-old.

Instead of becoming just “Cecil Fielder’s son” in baseball circles, Prince became one of the rare exceptions to establish his own legacy. It seems appropriate that each finished their career with 319 home runs; neither exceeding or falling short of each other, yet remaining distinctly separate despite the familial bond.

Drafted in the first round (7th overall pick) by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2002, he was in the majors by 2005 and a full-fledged star the following year. As a 23-year-old in 2007 he had his best year, exploding for a league-leading 50 home runs, which earned him third place in American League MVP voting.

He finishes up having played for three teams (including the Detroit Tigers) during his 12 seasons. During that time, he hit a combined .283 with 319 home runs, 1,028 RBIs and was a six-time All Star. While he was never part of a team that won a World Series, Fielder was a major part of five teams that made the postseason, including two (2008 and 2011) with the Brewers.

It is with sad irony that injury is prematurely ending his career. One of baseball’s iron men earlier in his career, he led the league in games played with 162 four different time, and between 2006 and 2013 played in 1,283 of a possible 1,296 games. In the end, his neck couldn’t withstand the rigors of baseball and is forcing him to the sidelines at a time that otherwise may well have been the prime of his career.

Ultimately, Fielder ends up in that weird territory where he was an outstanding player yet lacked the kinds of defining moments that make baseball legends. He was more of a blue collar guy, primarily toiling for (and helping thrive) teams in smaller markets. A lot of people couldn’t get past his girth but the man was a natural athlete.

One of the things Fielder did best was something that has become increasingly harder to find in the big money game of professional baseball—have fun. From exuberant and over the top home run celebrations to teasing teammates (including at his retirement presser), you always got the sense that he thoroughly enjoyed what he was doing. He left little doubt on the field with his prodigious home runs, which inspired gasps and awe. His passion and positivity in turn was reflected on the teams for which he played.

Many dream of retiring at Fielder’s age but everybody wants to go out on their own terms. The slugger is being denied that and the end of his career is unfortunately not befitting one of the game’s best citizens and sources of entertainment. Here’s hoping that as he walks away, fans remember now and forever his contributions and the fact that he could have likely done a lot more if he had a just little more time.

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