When the Tigers signed Prince Fielder and excited almost the entire nation of Tigers fans, the signing was more about productivity on the field, and replacing the production the Tigers lost when Victor Martinez hurt his ACL. What was also lost with Martinez was clubhouse leadership. And while leadership is something that is hard to measure, successful teams tend to have it, and it appears to be something the 2012 Tigers have missed. Well, maybe until now.
A bit ago on July 7th I wrote an article that chronicled the first Prince Fielder “moment” as a Tiger. It came courtesy of a late three run homer which propelled the Tigers to a much needed victory. Since then, the Tigers have been on a role, a record of 9-2 to be exact. While there has been plenty of reasons of why the Tigers have been playing better as of late, Prince Fielder is one of the main reasons.
Fielder has done a lot of damage with his bat the last two weeks, hitting .375 with an OPS of 1.094. He has also been fielding his position a little bit better as well. And while he may not ever be even a satisfactory defender, if he continues giving us what he has the last couple of weeks, the Tigers can certainly live with it.
It’s the extras that the Tigers are getting from Fielder right now that are impressing me. With a decent portion of Detroit down on Fielder up until the month of July, one thing has always been constant for the child-like behemoth that is Fielder. His infectious and playful attitude. Fielder is the type of superstar that clearly can’t go through games without having fun, but it’s not at the expense of winning. When the Tigers lose, you can tell he takes it as hard as anyone in interviews after the game, especially when something he has done poorly has had a hand in it.
I won’t say that it is rare that a star in any sport plays hard, because that just wouldn’t be true. Many in fact do, and it’s part of the reason they become stars. But after watching Prince Fielder, I would say that he falls in the category of a star that plays the game hard. Yesterday for instance, he hit a ball down the left field line, and literally barreled head first into 2nd base for a double. His physical limitations and expansions aside, that double was pure hustle all the way. It wasn’t the first time we have seen that from Prince Fielder either.
On more than one occasion Fielder has turned on the “jets” to get himself a hustle double, or go from first to third. If you watch him run the bases, he is always chugging pretty hard to try and take that extra base. And when he makes it, the youthful smile like he just got away with eating some candy when he shouldn’t forms.
This is a stark contrast to one of the other star Tigers hitters. I’m not writing this to heap criticism upon Miguel Cabrera, but hustling out of the batters box isn’t among his many qualities if we were to be honest, and I like being honest. With a guy like that, you take the small bad with all the punishment he inflicts on opposing pitchers with the bat. But that isn’t leadership, and Prince appears to have that natural “something” that his teammates enjoy, and maybe more importantly, can follow.
Prince doesn’t strike me much as a public speaker. There is almost a shyness to him in interviews, so I don’t expect he will be throwing things around in a closed door meeting when this team needs to be fired up. What I do think is players these days know how much everyone is making, and they will follow a guy who plays the game hard despite what he is getting paid. Fielder’s joy for playing baseball and having fun with his teammates is like the poster child of the anti-superstar.
As much as Fielder is providing with the bat, it might be his larger than life presence and intangibles that are providing even more right now.
Fielder doesn’t cheat the game, and I think that is something we can all appreciate.