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GLENDALE, Ariz. – Sometime Tuesday night, Prince Fielder's phone should ring. On the other end should be Joe Torre and Joe Garagiola Jr., the manager and GM of Team USA's entry into the World Baseball Classic. And the first word out of their mouths should sound something like this:
Unbecoming though it would be of Torre and Garagiola to beg, Team USA needs a left-handed-hitting first baseman after Mark Teixeira strained a tendon in his right forearm Tuesday, sending him back to New York and out of the WBC for good. And there is no better left-handed-hitting first baseman in the world, let alone this country, than Prince Fielder.
Look, this is a long shot. There is a reason most of the best players from the United States aren't here: The WBC, for all of its great qualities, is sort of a pain in the ass for players. If Team USA makes the finals in San Francisco, players will essentially have been on a 20-day road trip. Between that and the time away from the team that pays them, it's a sacrifice most elite players have been unwilling to make.
"If he wanted to be here," one Team USA player said, "he'd be here already."
This is true. Still, these are extenuating circumstances. Even if there is a surfeit of American-born first basemen – Ryan Howard, Adam LaRoche, Freddie Freeman, Ike and Chris Davis, Brandon Belt, Mitch Moreland and Eric Hosmer, not to mention right-handed hitting Paul Konerko, Billy Butler, Allen Craig and Mark Reynolds – only a handful are likely to make themselves available this late in the process. And with the priority finding a left-handed hitter to balance out a righty-heavy American lineup, persuading Fielder becomes an even greater priority.
Fielder told reporters in Florida earlier this spring he didn't pursue a slot in the WBC because he wanted to play 162 games with the Detroit Tigers this season. Fielder's durability is one of his great hallmarks. He has played more games than any player in baseball since his first full season: 1,121 of a possible 1,134. Over the last four seasons, he has missed one game.
Who'd have ever imagined: A 5-foot-10, 280-pound first baseman is the closest thing we have to Cal Ripken Jr.
It's also part of what makes him such an attractive candidate. Fielder is perhaps the least likely player to fall prey to the injury issues that seem to plague the WBC, even though Teixeira's wrist was just as likely to go limp in Tampa.
Well, that and his enormous power. Fielder's bat is already plenty warm – he's got a pair of home runs for the Tigers in 17 at-bats this spring, including one that prompted this delicious bat flip – and the biggest hassle would be making a decision in such short order, as the U.S. needs him in Phoenix for its debut game Friday.
Beyond the usual rationale Torre and Garagiola would espouse – do it for your country, be part of something special, etc. – there is a far greater benefit for Fielder.
By enlisting with Team USA, he would do more to legitimize the WBC than anybody has in the past.
Think about it. Superstar. No intentions of playing. Wants to be with his team that went to the World Series last year and has a great shot of doing the same this year. Every reason not to come. And he joins, slides into the cleanup spot, sandwiched between Ryan Braun and Giancarlo Stanton, the sort of 3-4-5 that begs for intentional walks in triplicate, saving Team USA from a potential downgrade.
He would be America's first WBC hero.
OK, maybe that's a little much. Far too few people domestically care about the WBC to crown heroes. If Team USA happens to win, though – a plenty-legitimate possibility – Fielder's selflessness would go down as part of the team's lore.
By now, his teammates in Detroit understand Fielder's greatness goes beyond his bat. He was beloved in Milwaukee's clubhouse for the first seven years of his career, and even as a player with the fourth-biggest contract in American sports history, he blends in with the Tigers because of the respect he engenders. He plays every day. He plays at an elite level. There is no greater combination in baseball.
So if Prince Fielder were to decide to join Team USA, the Tigers certainly would understand, pat him on the back and wish him luck. The American team that needs a left-handed-hitting first baseman would rejoice. And the tournament looking for stateside credibility in its third go-around would have its biggest jolt yet.
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