He laughs with a teammate and pulls on a pair of black shorts. It’s nearly a quarter way through the season, and the Prince is feeling comfortable on his throne – well, OK, his locker chair – even if he and the Tigers haven’t exactly set the world on fire.
“It’s just the same stuff in a different place,” Prince Fielder said before Friday’s game. “Obviously, different teams. Different pitchers. Other than that, it’s baseball.”
Fielder’s move to Detroit was – along with Albert Pujols’ jump to Anaheim – the biggest off-season development in the major leagues, a superstar in his prime, switching leagues, signing a nine-year, $214-million contract. It was supposed to propel an already strong Detroit roster into the clobbering zone.
Hasn’t happened yet. The Tigers are a .500 team. Could be timing. Could be rhythm. If you listen to Fielder, it’s just a matter of winning a few more games.
But it’s not about him adjusting to a new place after seven years in Milwaukee.
“That’s not a big deal. You’re always on the road anyhow. It’s just like going to a new school. After you meet the guys, after a couple of days, you get comfortable…
“I try to make it as simple as possible.”
I asked if that was his approach to life in general.
“Yeah,” he said, smiling. “Life’s hard enough as it is.”
Coming into his own
Fielder, a first baseman who just turned 28, carries the same easy smile as his father, Cecil, the same laconic voice, and a pocket Hercules version of his body – thick muscle, colorful tattoos. But the son seems far more serious and private. Like a sailor with a solid compass and good wind, he seems to know his direction and has his eyes squarely on the horizon.
“Prince is not a rah-rah guy,” said his manager, Jim Leyland. “He comes out to beat the other team, comes out to play, comes out to do his job – and goes home.
“I’m starting to get to know him a little bit, but I can see almost the best way to keep him going is to pretty much leave him alone. He knows what he needs to do.”
Leyland is not the type to force himself on a new player. He says only the athlete will know if he’s going through “an adjustment period.”
Fielder seems to be settling into a groove. He had a two-run homer in Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Pirates, after an RBI double in Friday’s victory, and has gone 12 for his last 24. Although he has endured an 0-for-22 streak, last week Fielder told the media that “pressing is just what people call it when you’re not getting the job done.”
He insists there is no American League learning curve, no adjustment allowance, no familiarity issues of a new ballpark, a new city, new home, new traffic.
And if there’s a letdown that comes with signing a contract that eliminates all financial issues for the rest of your life, Fielder isn’t copping to it.
“It’s not that big a challenge,” he said, rubbing his hands together as he relaxed in his chair. “At least not for me.”
Glad to be here
Fielder’s numbers may still be below his normal pace of excellence (.303 average, seven homers, 24 RBIs), a pace that would leave him under 30 homers and 100 RBIs for the season. But numbers can change fast. And a powerhouse like Fielder can go a tear that makes fantasy league devotees salivate.
His analysis of the Tigers’ season so far is pretty simple:
“I guess we just haven’t won as many games as people expected. It is what it is. I really don’t try to live up to anybody’s expectations, anyway…. It’s a long season.”
As for chemistry?
“I don’t know. That’s for the coaches. That’s a little too deep for me….
“As far as chemistry: Baseball is different, I feel. It’s a team sport, but it’s individual….
“I think everyone (on the Tigers) is playing their hearts out. That’s all you can do.”
He smiles and rolls his neck, his two-colored hair and multi-inked arms suggesting a man who is comfortable in many shades. Right now, to fans, he may still be the new guy, but Fielder, who spent part of his childhood in Detroit, doesn’t feel that way.
He’s where he wants to be, doing it the way he wants to do it.
“I think Prince is a very private person and I like that,” Leyland said. “He’s very bright. He’s a very smart baseball guy.”
Or, as Fielder said, “Overthinking doesn’t help.”
He smiles. He shrugs. He gets ready for another game. Adjustment? What adjustment? The manager’s happy. The player is happy.
A few more wins, and everyone else will be happy, too.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.