Posted on: March 5, 2012 3:48 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2012 3:54 pm
LAKELAND -- If it's possible, Prince Fielder seems even more boisterous and more animated than ever before now that his new $214-million, nine-year contract is behind him and the Tigers are his future. You've never seen anyone so thrilled to be in Detroit.
"This is a blessing,'' Fielder said. "It's a dream come true, even though I didn't even dream about it.''
Fielder, who resided in Detroit while his father Cecil starred for the Tigers, added that "it really hasn't sunk in yet'' that he's a Tiger.
Fielder is already starting on his own legend. He hit a home run in batting practice that veteran Detroit News Tigers beat writer Tom Gage measured as 611 feet (including the roll). he hit a home run in the opener here at Joker Marchant, crashing one about 25-feet up off the light tower in right field, and after he said, "I'm just getting loose.''
Folks around the Tigers remember when Prince came to hit for them as a draft-eligible player a decade ago and more consistently hit the ball over the fence than most of their real players. But alas, the Tigers had the eighth pick that year, and Fielder went to the Brewers one pick ahead. (With Fielder gone, the Tigers picked first baseman Scott Moore, who has seven lifetime homers and is in Astros camp after signing a minor-league contract this winter).
Technically, Fielder is here not because of his dream but because of Tigers owner Mike Ilitch's dream. Ilitch, 83, has yet to win a World Series as Tigers owner, and he has shown he will do whatever it may take to rectify that. The loss of Victor Martinez after what is described as a freak training injury that wrecked his knee when his front foot gave out while shuffling is all it took to put Fielder on Ilitch's radar.
The loss of Martinez meant weakened lineup protection for incumbent superstar Miguel Cabrera. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said V-Mart's absence conjured up images of a steady stream of intentional walks for Cabrera. So to Dombrowski it was really like the loss of "one a half hitters.'' Ilitch could not stand to see his team weakened, so he made sure to make it better.
"He is in a situation where he wants to win,'' Dombrowski said about Ilitch. "He is also very cognizant he has a good club, so he's in a situation where he's aggressive.''
Aggressive? Some other teams may claim $214 million over nine years is foolhardy for the productive and jubilant yet stocky Fielder. However, Ilitch has been aggressive before, and it has ususally paid off. It did with Magglio Ordonez, and before that with Pudge Rodriguez.
For Fielder, before V-Mart hurt himself, there was no thought about retruning to Detroit. The leaders for him appeared to be the Dodgers, who offered $160-million plus over seven years and might have gone to an eighth year, and the Orioles, who have a hard time attracting GMs or players. The Nationals and Rangers were among many more interested teams but some of those other teams were reluctant to go eight years, much less nine.
Fielder said of Ilitch, "He wanted to get it done. He was the only guy to really show that.''
The Ordonez and Rodriguez signings came in the years before big stars dreamed of coming to Detroit. Fielder figures Detroit is perfect, and not just because he spent his formative years there (from age 5 to 11). He wants to win, and the Tigers have as good a chance as anyone these days. Also, it probably doesn't hurt that the American League team will give him a chance to DH in the final years of his nine-year deal.
"I remember the years (in Detroit). It was awesome,'' Fielder declared of the time he spent there (the Fielders lived in Grosse Pointe). "Hopefully, I can make some new memories.''
The negotiation, though it took well into January, is the first positive memory for Prince. There were definitely some anxious moments, but Fielder is better equipped than most to handle those. Speaking of his agent Scott Boras, Fielder said, "One thing Scott doesn't do is lie. He said at (age) 19 what would happen if I stayed focused. He was right.''
Perhaps, but no one could have predicted he'd back in Detroit.