Big men are not usually known for doing the little things.
Some baseball commentators get overly excited about the “hustle guys” who “do the extra things” that “don’t show up in the box score.” They provide a team an extra “spark,” according to popular baseball legend, and their contributions can’t be measured in statistics. They always sprint out of the batter’s box just in case an infielder drops a popup or boots a ground ball; they slide hard into every base even when there’s no chance to break up a double play; they lay out, full extension, trying to field a ball they have no chance of getting to; they happily bunt, hit-and-run, and execute “small ball” tactics if their manager wants them to; they are always alert to taking an extra base.
It’s true that sometimes “hustle” will result in an extra base, an extra run, or, less tangibly, something that smells like team spirit. But modern analysts generally scoff at “things that don’t show up” in the stats. They know that three-run homers outweigh a ton of hustle.
Announcers usually bestow the mantle of “hustle guys” on scrawny infielders, probably because scrappy runts fit the image better.
But what if you have a guy who slugs three-run homers and hustles — and never misses a game? The Detroit Tigers have one such guy: a rare dude named Prince.
On Opening Day in Minnesota, Fox Sports Detroit resumed its telecasts with Rod Allen making his usual hilarious malapropisms (opining, for instance, that Joe Mauer would be “in the conversation for batting champion” as if that title were determined by popular vote; please note, readers, I’ll be collecting these gems all year). The telecast had that comfortingly annoying familiarity — same sponsors, same on-air personalities, albeit a shocking switch of Fox Sports Detroit girls! And, of course, the Tigers had the same guy at first base.
Nobody said so afterwards, but Prince Fielder did as much as anyone to insure a Tigers victory, though not in the same fashion as later in the week, at the Tigers’ home opener, when he clouted two homers. In this road opener, Prince made a very nice scoop on a throw that ended an inning and in so doing saved at least one run, and he scored another with a terrific instant read on a passed ball that wasn’t far from Mauer, freight-training home from third. (Two plays which failed to show up in the stats).
Yes, the slide turned into an awkward rolling tumble that prompted grins and wisecracks from his teammates afterwards in the dugout, but Prince doesn’t care how it looks. He might not always execute in picture-perfect textbook fashion, but he finds a way to get the job done. He’s a big bear but a surprisingly nimble one, and he’s always looking for an extra edge. The son of an All-Star ballplayer, Prince knows how to play the game, and he obviously loves playing the game, and he gives it his all, day in and day out, play after play, all season long. (And he is the current leader among active players in consecutive games played, 350-plus and counting.)
Isn’t that the very definition of a hustle guy?