By the grace of serendipity, the guile of Scott Boras and the wallet of Mike Ilitch, Prince Fielder appears to have found the place to play out the rest of his baseball life, in a city that couldn't help but love him for decades.
In Detroit, he was the husky kid with the oversized bat, the uppercut swing, the grin that slayed old Tiger Stadium.
On a Tuesday afternoon nearing the end of January, when the Detroit Tigers were considering a season without Victor Martinez or anyone like him, they discovered the market had held Fielder for them, that Boras was eager to deal, and that Ilitch would commit again to a team that played into the American League Championship Series in 2011.
Along came Prince, in a thunderbolt, all grown up (and a little out). The last they'd seen of him in a Tigers cap, it was atop a 12-year-old's head. He still admired his daddy back then, and wandered the ballpark's grounds in that enormous shadow, and once – memorably – knocked a batting practice fastball into the upper-deck bleachers.
Fielder, just 89 career home runs behind Cecil in 1,500 fewer at-bats, agreed Tuesday to a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Tigers, the announcement of which awaits a clean physical.
The contract came from the usual mist of a Boras free-agent pitch, with franchises rumored to come and go into the final frantic moments. It would be the Washington Nationals, or the Texas Rangers, or the Baltimore Orioles, or the Seattle Mariners, or somebody, maybe even the Los Angeles Dodgers. And it came from the usual soup of a Boras winter, when the market was too thin, the years too long and the price too high.
Instead, the fit was as perfect as the timing.
For Fielder, he gets a relevant franchise that helps lift a city, a contender that now boasts the best three-four pairing in the game. And he gets the late-career rocking chair of the DH rule, if that's where it leads.
For the Tigers, they get a great ballplayer and a stronger man, a hitter who'll more than cover for Martinez and a leader who'll fortify an already sound clubhouse.
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For Ilitch, the 82-year-old owner, he gets another summer of hope for a World Series championship.
For the rest of the AL Central, it gets an already favored Tigers team that returns better than it was four months back, when it won the division by 15 games.
And even for Miguel Cabrera, along with Jose Bautista the best right-handed hitter in the American League, who seemingly has lost his position, but has gained one of the better left-handed bats in the game.
This wasn't Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui or Vladimir Guerrero, some of the names being kicked around Detroit after Martinez blew his knee. This was Prince Fielder, at 27 a lineup-mate Cabrera, at 28, can grow old (and a little out) with.
Cabrera may indeed try his hand at third base, which, if it works at all, might only work for a short period. But, even with its potential problems on the other side of the ball, the pitching in Detroit and the offense in Detroit will be worth the occasional late-inning defensive replacement, particularly when Martinez returns.
No, I like Prince in Detroit because Prince will like it in Detroit, and because Detroit will love Prince in Detroit, an outcome that far outshines Prince waiting for prospects in Washington, or waiting for relevance in Seattle, or waiting for liquidity in Los Angeles.
After admitting he was shocked at the news, Cecil told MLB Network Radio that Prince in Detroit had a nice little hum to it.
"He's going to come full circle," he said. "You know, he's been there in Detroit most of his young life so I think he'll be comfortable in that place. … I know Mr. Ilitch is probably excited because he's been wanting that kid since he was a little kid, so he finally got his wish."
In Detroit, Prince will take on his father's legacy, and his father's choices, but only for a short time. Then, as he's been almost since the days he wore that big ol' Tigers cap and roamed that big ol' ballpark, he'll be his own man.
All grown up.
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- Prince Fielder
- Mike Ilitch
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