Prince Fielder more than 'stupid strong'
Brewers' first baseman, in the final year of his current contract, not just a big slugger
Here's what we know about Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder: He's one of the game's premier hitters; he's 26; he can be a free agent after the season; the Brewers are going to try to win it all with him this year, but if they're out of the race by the end of July, they're going to have to trade him because they know they don't have the funds to re-sign him after the season.
"So," Fielder said, "give it all you got every day so you can sleep at night."
Not everyone knows this about Prince Fielder: He's even stronger than you think. A former Brewers coach, Rich Donnelly, once said that Fielder's arms "are so big, you could tattoo a map of the United States on one of his biceps and still have room for Argentina."
"He is the strongest man in baseball, no doubt, and I really think he could hold his own in the World's Strongest Man competition," said Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun. "His arms are bigger than my legs."
"He is stupid strong, stupid strong," said Milwaukee third baseman Casey McGehee. "We were just in Pittsburgh. He hit 20 balls in the water in batting practice in two days. The rest of us are blowing snot bubbles trying to hit one as far as him, and he's just getting loose."
Jerry Narron, one of the Brewers' coaches, was among many Brewers who were asked to stand up and tell something about themselves to the team in spring training. "I told them that one of the highlights of my career was hitting a home run into the upper deck in Detroit one day," Narron said with a healthy laugh. "Prince said he did that when he was 12."
Indeed. Fielder went out to plenty of American League parks at that age, tagging along with his father, Cecil, one of the game's best power hitters in the early 1990s.
Not everyone knows this about Fielder: He's a good athlete, above average defensively and a decent runner. But, at 5-foot-11 and 275 pounds, he gets labeled as a slug, which isn't the case.
"I could dunk a volleyball in high school," Fielder said. "I didn't play football because I knew they were going to put me at a fat-guy position and I didn't want to do that. I am athletic."
Said McGehee: "If he played football, I don't want to say he'd be a lineman because it has a negative connotation, but he'd be a quick, athletic guard that pulls, then flattens someone. He is way better than people think on defense [in baseball]. Some of the shifts we play leave him 45 feet away from the bag, but he's quick enough to get over there for the throw."
Cecil Fielder was a far better defensive first baseman than he was given credit for, had great hands and good feet, and could easily dunk a basketball despite his size: 6-3 and 230 pounds.
"I've always liked playing defense," Prince said. "But, nothing against my dad, but when I'd come home from a game, he'd ask, 'How did you hit?'"
Garth Iorg, a Brewers coach who runs the team's defense, said, "The way Prince charges a bunt -- I haven't seen the whole league -- but I can't imagine someone being that much better."
Not everyone knows this about Fielder: He plays hard every play. He really cares.
"He is so much fun to manage," said Ron Roenicke, the first-year manager for the Brewers. "On a routine ground ball to the first baseman, he is in full sprint. On a shallow fly ball to the outfield, he is in a full sprint. He takes ground ball after ground ball. He works."
He is so much fun to manage. On a routine ground ball to the first baseman, he is in full sprint. On a shallow fly ball to the outfield, he is in a full sprint. He takes ground ball after ground ball. He works.” -- Brewers manager Ron
Roenicke on Prince Fielder
Milwaukee utility man Craig Counsell, 40, said, "It is a sign of mental toughness the way he plays -- so, so hard. He's not going to give in on anything. He's not going to give up on anything."
Fielder has always been that way. "I did it [not running hard] once; I was watching a runner instead of going all out," Fielder said. "Robin Yount was with us [as a coach]. You know Robin. He looked at me. I never did that again."
Said Narron: "Prince has a great attitude about the game. You know how many star players get their two at-bats in a spring training game, pack everything up and leave right after that? I never saw him this spring not stay for at least two or three innings on the bench."
Added Braun: "He is so durable [Fielder holds the Brewers' club record for consecutive games played with 327, breaking Yount's record]. He's never been on the disabled list in his career. We are in a sport where you are judged by production. How many guys are more productive than him?"
Not many. He has 195 home runs. Since the start of the 2007 season, only Ryan Howard has more home runs (174) than Fielder (165). When Fielder hit 50 home runs in 2007, he became the youngest player (23 years, 139 days) to hit 50, breaking the record held by Willie Mays. When free agency comes around in November, Fielder will be in great demand by several teams (how would he look in a Cubs uniform?) but likely not the Brewers. Not because they don't want him, but because they can't afford him at what likely will be about $20 million a year. That price tag could go up with another huge year. Off to a great start, he leads the major leagues with 17 RBIs and is hitting .338.
The demand for Fielder will be there not just because of his age -- he is roughly 4½ years younger than Howard and another free agent-to-be, Albert Pujols -- and not just for his track record, but for everything else he brings to a team. And what he brings to a team is a lot more than people realize.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and became available in paperback in May 2008. Click here to order a copy.
Follow Tim Kurkjian on Twitter: @Kurkjian_ESPN