Prince Fielder never really loved baseball. It was the family business. It was the game his Dad loved, but the game Prince was merely good at.
The younger Fielder was a better hitter than his old man, who was no slouch. But Prince never seemed to warm to the pressure of professional baseball. He had All-Star seasons, hit mammoth home runs. He was an MVP candidate. But he rarely felt joy on a baseball field.
“I was always at the ballpark when I was a kid,” Prince told the Detroit News in 2012. “I thought every kid had a dad who played pro baseball.”
Growing up in Tiger Stadium
When Prince was five years old, his father Cecil signed a free agent contract to play for the Tigers. The previous season, the elder Fielder had been “Big Gaijin” in Japan, where he spent a year getting himself on track and auditioning for a job in the States.
That deal worked out brilliantly for Cecil and the Tigers. In his first season wearing the Old English D, “Big Daddy” smacked 51 home runs. Most of them were terrifying, sky-high moon shots. He was big, and he was powerful, and he played baseball with a huge smile.
Those were the days, when Big Cec was winning three consecutive RBI titles, that Not-So-Little Prince was haunting the hallways under Tiger Stadium. He met Sparky Anderson and Alan Trammell and Kirk Gibson. He got taller, and bigger, and stronger. When he was 11, Prince hit a home run at Tiger Stadium during batting practice.
“I loved the Tigers,” Prince said years later. “Sparky was a tough guy, and he didn’t always like it when I was on a stool in the clubhouse, because he had to clean up his language.”
By the time Prince was a slugger in his own right, his father was retired as a player. Little Prince was even bigger than Big Daddy. He was drafted seventh overall in the 2002 MLB Draft by Milwaukee. Only 36 months later, when he was 21, Prince made his big league debut.
But when Prince became a major leaguer, his relationship with his father was practically nil. Cecil had a nasty divorce, and he was overbearing with Prince’s baseball ambitions. As Prince matured into a home run slugger, Cecil was forced to watch from afar. The younger Prince wanted nothing to do with “Big Daddy.”
In 2007, in just his second full season, Prince Fielder joined his father in the 50-home run club. Two years later he led the league with 141 RBI. He had definitely inherited the old man’s talent for “ribbies.”
But Prince wasn’t that happy, even when he earned a big contract and played October baseball.
When the Brewers eked into the playoffs in 2008 Fielder struggled on the big stage, going 1-for-14 in the series loss, his only hit a home run.
Three times, Fielder finished in the top five in AL Most Valuable Player Award voting. He reconciled with his father, but it was still strained.
Return to Detroit
Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch fell in love with the idea of bringing Prince “home” and overpaid for the free agent in 2012 after Victor Martinez went down with a season-ending injury. It was supposed to be a return to his childhood home, but Prince never seemed to take to the Motor City.
The Tigers went to the World Series in Fielder’s first season in their uniform, but it was downhill for Prince in Motown after that. A teammate had a publicized affair with his wife, and after the Tigers were eliminated from the 2013 AL Championship Series (with Fielder failing to drive in a run), he told reporters in the clubhouse that baseball “wasn’t that important.”
Detroit general manager David Dombrowski couldn’t trade Prince fast enough after that embarrassing comment. A devastating neck injury ended his playing career less than three years later. He ended with 319 home runs, matching the total hit by his father.
“I didn’t always feel comfortable on the field.” Prince said in an interview late in his career. “I put a lot of pressure on myself, pressure I got from everywhere else too. It was that way, I thought.”