A couple days ago, Prince Fielder stepped up to bat in the 8th inning of a tie game with the Minnesota Twins. There were two runners on with one out, in a game that frankly the Tigers needed. Not because it would’ve meant they were out of the playoff race, but rather to appease an ever-skeptical fan base that is questioning whether or not this years Tigers team can really win.
It didn’t help that the cellar dwelling Minnesota Twins had won the first two games of the four game series, and had beaten the Tigers 4 out of 5 in Detroit this season. We as Tigers fans never like losing to the Twins, especially when the Tigers are supposed to be good and the Twins are terrible.
Prince Fielder with one mighty blast off of lefty Tyler Robertsonsaved fans from further pulling their hair out, and with that one swing may have change fans’ attitude towards Prince as well. In effect, it was Prince Fielder’s first “Tigers moment”.
Now, I can’t take credit for the notion that Prince Fielder had yet to have a “Tigers moment” , and that somehow has mattered in the fans perception of his season. I don’t remember which talk show it was, but one of Detroit’s local radio hosts had mentioned that a lack of a “Tigers moment” was why Fielder hadn’t endeared himself to Tigers fans yet, and I couldn’t dispute that. We’ve all heard it at the ball park, and perhaps some of you have said some not so flattering things about Prince. Many have called Prince overpaid. Many have called him worthless, or even a bum. The anger, or rather frustration and disappointment by so many fans when you bring up Fielder is so palpable, you can almost taste it. Some even believe that he isn’t performing to the standards set forth by Victor Martinez last season.
There is little fact to support claims that the Tigers would be better off with Victor Martinez instead of Prince. Well, at least offensively. Let’s get the bad out of the way here. Prince Fielder defensively has been atrocious. There can be no dispute about his epically bad defense at first base. In that sense, he has hurt the team, and it knocks his value down overall. He isn’t worth the 20M dollars plus because of it. Still, he has been a really good bat in the middle of that Tigers order.
I think the perception is that Prince isn’t giving Miguel Cabrera the same kind of protection that Victor Martinez did last season. Martinez was outstanding in that capacity, and with runners in scoring position, hit .394 with an OPS of 990. People might be surprised that Fielder is just as productive, if not more so than Martinez so far this season. While his average is JUST .366 with RISP, his OPS eclipses that of Martinez at 1.023. Overall, Fielder has posted an OPS of .866 this season, while Martinez posted an OPS of .850 last year. The difference being this is a subpar year for Fielder, and that was one of Martinez’ best of his career.
Those are the statistical facts. Prince Fielder, offensively, has been every bit as good as Victor Martinez was last year.
But there are higher expectations for Fielder…and there should be. After all, he is getting paid to be one of the biggest offensive forces in the game, and not just another guy. Until Thursday, to Tigers fans, he was just another guy, and one that couldn’t defend his position. Of his 12 home runs prior to number 13, only one had been hit with runners on base. Some of that could certainly be chalked up to runners being cleared off by Miguel Cabrera, some just dumb luck and statistical anomaly.
Thursday wasn’t about statistics though. It was about a player that is fighting to become a Tiger. No fan base, or city for that matter, reveres their sports heroes more than Detroit. Guys like Kirk Gibson, Barry Sanders, Joe Dumars, and Steve Yzerman can certainly attest to that. Heck, Prince Fielder’s teammate Justin Verlander can attest to that. Try suggesting a trade involving Verlander, you might want to get ready to duck.
For those of us Tigers fans that were around when Prince Fielder’s dad Cecil was bombing homers on the left field roof of Tigers, we can’t help but have an inherent desire to see Prince succeed. He has been a part of the Tigers family before ever signing here. Many of us wanted the Tigers to land him in the draft when he became eligible. Many wanted the Tigers to sign him before Martinez got hurt. Many rejoiced when owner Mike Iltich made his signing a reality.
And many of us waited much longer than anticipated for a moment like Thursday.
I think the best thing about Fielder’s home run wasn’t necessarily that it won the Tigers a game. They likely could’ve won without it. It was watching Fielder’s reaction, and not just his, but his teammates as well, mainly Miguel Cabrera. I’m not talking about the posing after the dinger. He does that anyway. I’m not talking about choreographed handshakes. They do that all the time as well.
I’m talking about the hug. One big slugger to another. It was almost as if one superstar Tiger was finally welcoming another one into an exclusive family. There was real joy, and maybe some relief on the part of Fielder, for finally doing something noticeable at an important time for the Tigers.
Make no mistake. This is no Magglio Ordonez 2006 home run to send the Tigers to the series. Thursday’s home run by Prince will likely be forgotten in a couple of weeks, unless of course the Tigers rip off a good stretch. That home run might be seen as the catalyst.
Either way, it has gotten a tiny monkey off of his back, and maybe without the excess baggage, we will see that Prince Fielder more often. Let’s hope so, the Tigers are going to need it.
Welcome back to the Tigers family Prince.