TIGER STADIUM, SEPT. 1, 1990 — Ever since Cecil Fielder hit his 62nd home run of the season last week, things have been pretty crazy around here. You can’t get near the stadium. The line forms before dawn — reporters, mostly. From New York, London, Moscow. About 900 reporters are here from Japan, and all they want to know is how many yen it would take to get Cecil back there for another season. At last count, they were up to 873 billion.
Of course, Cecil has had some pretty interesting offers since last Tuesday, when he smacked that Guillermo Hernandez hanging curveball into the cheap seats for home run No. 62, breaking the all-time single-season record with more than a month to play. People were surprised. Not that Hernandez threw a hanging curveball; they pretty much expected that. But they were surprised Cecil hit it out, because he’d already banged three home runs in that game. Geez. Does the guy ever get tired?
One thing’s for sure. Old Cec’ really messed up baseball’s publicity people, who figured he wouldn’t get No. 62 until the weekend. That’s when they had Bruce Springsteen coming in for the national anthem, along with the 300 dancing girls, choreographed by Paula Abdul, and the giant ice cream sculpture. Instead, after Cecil hit Nos. 59, 60 and 61 with three swings — and it was only the sixth inning — the commissioner yelled, “Rain delay!” even though there wasn’t any rain, and the game was suspended until President Bush could fly in from Washington, D.C., and Roger Maris’ grandchildren could be rushed in from Ohio. Both arrived in their pajamas. The president, a tad confused, began his speech saying, “Mr. Shevardnadze, let me say I am delighted to be in your country. . . . “
Naturally, all three networks were broadcasting live. Ted Koppel did
“Nightline” from home plate. Oprah Winfrey walked among the crowd, asking,
“Do home run hitters make better lovers?” Mike Wallace tried to sneak into the dugout, but Sparky Anderson said: “You ain’t no ballplayer. Hey. Bo!”
And Bo Schembechler tackled him.
After a while, the sellout crowd began to chant “CEEE-CIL! CEEE-CIL!” Finally, the big man himself came out of the dugout, put his hands on his hips, and replied: “CEH-CIL! HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU? IT’S PRONOUNCED CEH-CIL!”
It was quite a moment. On deck: Cecil and Ba-ba
Of course, by now it has been replayed on most every TV show in America, including “Good Morning America,” “Good Afternoon Dallas,” “Good Evening Seattle,” and “The Prudential Halftime Report.” I suppose you also saw the 15-page photo story in Life magazine, and the Newsweek, Time, Forbes, GQ, and Field & Stream cover stories. By the way, that last magazine has changed its name to Fielder & Stream. And Cecil doesn’t even fish.
He doesn’t watch Barbara Walters, either. But that didn’t stop her from doing an hourlong special, in which she asked the slugger, “Cecil, if you could be a twee, any twee. . . .” Quite frankly, Cecil doesn’t understand what
all this fuss is about, even if he is hitting .391. He also doesn’t know what a twee is.
Cecil keeps saying the same thing. “I’m just looking for good pitches to hit.” He says that to everybody. Except the Japanese reporters. When he sees them coming, he runs, because they keep throwing money at him. One time, they dumped a barrel of yen on his head. Another time, they delivered nine suitcases to his locker. Yesterday, one of them drove up in a truck. Cecil hid in the shower.
Sparky has been having a good time with this. He keeps smoking that pipe and saying, “Boys. I told you before the season, Cecil would hit 30 home runs. I just didn’t say how many times he would hit 30.”
Meanwhile, the rest of the Tigers have begun touching Cecil’s bat before each game, for good luck. The team batting average has soared to .314. The players have also thrown out their protein juices and nutrition shakes and adopted Cecil’s diet, which, as near as anyone can tell, is pretty much anything he wants, whenever he wants, especially pizza.
Did I mention the movie? Ready when you are, Cecil
Yes. It stars Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones. It’s called “Fielder of Dreams.” A voice comes to a Toronto baseball player and whispers, “If you swing, its outta here! . . .” It’s in development.
And to think, nobody thought Cecil could do it. Back in May, when he had 17, they kept waiting for him to fade. But by June he was calling ’em, upper deck or lower deck. By July, he was calling the row number. In August, Cecil’s relatives were sitting in the bleachers, and before he swung, he yelled,
“Hey, Uncle Mel! Heads up!”
So now the crowds come out every morning. Traffic is backed up to the SouthFielder Expressway, and also on GreenFielder Road. Mayor Coleman (Cecil) Young has declared the slugger’s bat a historic monument and plans to hang it next to the Joe Louis fist. A bat and a fist ought to convince visitors that this is not a town to be messed with.
The Japanese offer is up to 934 billion now, and counting. Like I said, this sure has become a crazy place. I guess the really crazy thing is that it’s liable to get worse next week.
That’s when Dan Petry goes for his 40th win.