Fielder still following own path

MARYVALE, Ariz. – There was always a path for Prince Fielder(notes), broad and marked and dead straight.

He would play ball and play it hard. He would back-leg and uppercut his way through the center of this path, leaving no question he was born into the game and would live it on the barrel of his bat.

Milwaukee "has been good" to Prince Fielder, who hopes to be a Brewer "as long as possible."
(Ralph Freso/AP)

From his daddy’s side, from high school, from not even four minor league seasons, he arrived a month after his 21st birthday, whacked a pair of doubles two days later and knew this was where he belonged.

He’d also live it on the edge of his spirit, breathlessly, as though anything between joy and anger was a waste of time and effort. Like his path, he was unbending, as though there was something out there only he could see.

On another gray, cool morning during spring training, Fielder set two plastic boxes on a bottom shelf in his Milwaukee Brewers’ locker here. He opened one and with his fingers plucked out pineapple chunks and popped them into his mouth. He’s 25 and looks it, sounds it, beaming throughout a conversation about his 5-year-old, a son named Jadyn who’s already throwing it and hitting it like maybe he sees the path, too.

“He’s just like me,” Prince said, “but better. … He likes it.”

If only it were always that simple.

The game has its casualties. Fielder refuses to be among them, and maybe that’s what it all comes down to. It’s why he plays the way he does, and feels the way he does, and expects the way he does. It’s why he hits – 46 more home runs in 2009, another 141 RBI, another season high on the MVP ballots.

Those close to him talk about his unusual drive – to be a great hitter, then to be a great power hitter, to be a man, then to be his own man, to have a family and then care for it forever. They say he respects the game like few they know. Maybe, at times, it looks complicated, but the truth is in Prince’s path.

“That’s probably it,” he said. “Like I said, I’m working on it. But, that’s going to be me forever. I’m an emotional guy. Sometimes I get a little crazy, but it’s,” he pauses for a moment, “I’m never trying to start anything. I just want to play baseball.”

So, he straightens out Manny Parra(notes). So, he chases Guillermo Mota(notes) into the night. So, he hits a home run against the San Francisco Giants, frees his jersey, hits the plate like a human earthquake and six months later takes a pseudo-fastball in the back for it.

In the MLB country club, Fielder’s the guy unafraid to live by his own bylaws. He’ll decide what upholds the standards of the game and what doesn’t. It’s his game, too. Hell, if the Giants would rather not play by Fielder’s laws, they should throw a better pitch.

Maybe he’d take back some of the decisions, but not the emotions that gave them life. Maybe he’d hope his boys would never see him so angry, but then maybe they’d also miss the hard work and dedication that pushed him to that jagged edge. Maybe then they’d forget to have fun, too.

Fielder, right, jokes with teammate Corey Hart before the start of a spring training game against Seattle on Monday.
(Ross D. Franklin/AP)

“They’re watching me,” he said. “My kids are watching me all the time. I don’t want my kids to think I didn’t work hard. I don’t want them to not think I gave it all I had.

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t play a child’s game. I don’t know why showing emotion is disrespecting the game.”

Think what you will – and the Giants did, settling their score – but Fielder will go on living and playing by his own standards and take the welt with him.

“If I were to give everybody the pro glide, that’s disrespecting the game,” he said. “For me, I can’t live with that.”

Even contract talks are on his terms. His agent, Scott Boras, and the Brewers have met and had discussions that, if they were to become full-blown negotiations, could result in an extension that would keep Fielder in town long after the 2011 season. Boras generally advises clients, particularly those such as Fielder, to play their way into free agency. Fielder knows what works for him, however. And while he might end up there eventually, he’d like to know what the Brewers think, too. It’s important to know the path early.

“I don’t know, I’m just here to play baseball,” he said. “I still have another year of arbitration. If I’m not here it’s not my fault.”

He is hopeful.

“Milwaukee’s been good to me,” he said. “I’d love to get something done so I can be here as long as possible.”

Meantime, there’s him and the path and another season. He won’t promise it’ll be perfect. It’s not that simple.

“I’m not a call-out guy,” he said, “but I think I should be judged on how I play baseball.”

Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Mar 8, 2010