PHOENIX – The boos were one thing. Prince Fielder(notes) can handle boos. Same goes for the jeers about his weight, the cracks on his scraggly beard and any other nonsense fans hurl. This All-Star week turned ugly for Fielder on Tuesday when angry fans took out their rage on the Milwaukee Brewers star's family.
On the day of every All-Star game, Major League Baseball unfurls a red carpet and starts a short procession of convertibles toward the stadium. Fielder rode in one with his wife, Chanel, and his sons Jadyn, 6, and Haven, 5. Still bitter that Fielder hadn't chosen Arizona Diamondbacks star Justin Upton(notes) to participate in Monday night's Home Run Derby, fans started throwing water at Fielder's car, Chanel said, rekindling questions from his kids about what, exactly, their father did wrong.
"It was just ridiculous," Chanel said.
She could laugh it off now, of course, because Prince was holding the crystal bat awarded to the MVP of the All-Star game, his three-run home run all the National League needed in its 5-1 victory over the American League at Chase Field. The boos had continued until Fielder lifted a two-strike cutter from Texas pitcher C.J. Wilson(notes) off the tippy-top of the fence and over it in left-center field. Only then did the fickle fans seem to remember Fielder plays in the same league as the hometown Arizona Diamondbacks.
"I didn't take it too personal," Fielder said, and some of his family members stifled giggles. Fielder, they said, took it way too personal. It's tough to blame him. His kids didn't understand why the people in Arizona so loathed their dad.
Same for Rickie Weeks(notes), the Brewers' second baseman and their godfather. Uncle Rickie, as they call him, was the most dubious of Fielder's derby choices, and he didn't exactly acquit himself bowing out in the first round.
"The whole thing was stupid about all the boos like that," Weeks said. "But it's great. He got MVP."
Just another step in a coronation that's unfolding moment by big moment. At 27, Fielder has evolved into one of the game's great sluggers, and not the one-dimensional sort, either. He walks more than he strikes out. He's agile enough for someone carrying upwards of 300 pounds on a frame that looks ill-suited to support it. He will hit free agency this offseason as perhaps the biggest attraction, and it's looking likelier that he'll exit it with the biggest contract handed to someone not named Alex Rodriguez(notes).
"Because of Prince's age, he'll probably get more total dollars," said Lance Berkman(notes), one of Pujols' teammates with St. Louis. "Your average annual value, Albert should be the highest-paid player in the game. He's the best hitter in baseball."
The issue, Berkman noted, is age. Pujols turns 32 this offseason. He's nearly five years older than Fielder. Long-term contracts – the sort that necessitate absurd-dollar commitments – tend to entail a far greater risk in older players than younger ones. Fielder getting a decade makes plenty more sense than Pujols doing so.
"Bodies just break down," Berkman said. "No one is immune to that kind of breakdown. You see some rumblings of that already with Alex [Rodriguez]. You've got the knee and last year the calf. It's hard for anybody.
"The nature of the game is so relentless. There's no time off. Your body just doesn't have time to recover. It's not the collisions in football or even basketball. It's not as physically demanding. But it's longer. A lot longer."
Fielder, spry for a big guy, shows no such signs of aging. He has been a Brewer his whole career, ever since scouts thought Milwaukee reached for him with the seventh overall pick in the 2002 draft. The son of former slugger Cecil Fielder, Prince matured into a far better player than his father, from whom he is estranged after Cecil allegedly gambled away some of Prince's signing bonus. Prince hit 50 home runs in his second full season and with 214 homers already could reach historic numbers during his next contract.
The likelihood of that happening with Milwaukee dwindles with each command performance. Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, drives up free agents' prices, and a low-revenue team such as Milwaukee simply won't lock more than a quarter of its payroll in a player whose size may mitigate his ability to play in the field.
"We're preparing to stay with Milwaukee," Chanel said. "That's obviously where we want to be, where we've been. That's comfortable. But we have to be realistic and know that in the next [few] months it's going to be a little different."
Already they've gotten a taste. The line between villain and hero in Arizona was yellow and demarcated home run from plain hit, and had their dad's swing left the ball an inch shorter, they would've booed. He wrote a narrative Phoenecians disliked. And given the choice once more, or 100 times more, Fielder never would change his mind on Weeks' inclusion in the derby.
"Absolutely not," Fielder said.
Such conviction is Fielder's style. He stepped in against Wilson, who limited left-handed hitters to a .144 batting average and didn't give up a home run to them last year, fought off a few good pitches and drove one to the opposite field with a left-handed swing that resembles a lumberjack taking a mighty whack.
Fielder is not all flannel and brawn. He wants to be a better father than his, so Jadyn and Haven's presence around the clubhouse is ubiquitous. Jadyn flops about with a head full of curly blond locks while Haven shows up with the old Brewers logo – the class interlocking MB in the shape of a glove – carved into his hair.
They flanked Prince on the dais toward the end of his night, his family's night. Haven took a sip from a bottle of the Gatorade on the table. He nearly gagged. Jadyn followed. He didn't like it, either. It was a protein-recovery beverage.
The Fielder clan laughed it off once more. They survived the water, the boos, even the nasty drinks, and it was a good lesson: This is what superstardom is like.
Prince Fielder better get used to it.
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