Change is good, so they say.
And ya’ know who likes change? Marketing people like change, so do wet babies, unhappy workers, anyone living near a skateboarder, panhandlers and free agents. That's about it.
When Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols made the big change this off-season it wasn’t because they were unhappy campers. Quite the contrary. Both were much loved and rather cozy in their respective cities of Milwaukee and St. Louis. Big baseball towns.
They opted for change because they wanted some big change, as in moolah. They got it, bushel-baskets full of it, courtesy of the Detroit Tigers and Anaheim Angels, respectively.
Like that employee moving-on to greener pastures, Prince and Albert arrived at their new surroundings with high hopes and long ‘to-do’ lists.
Moving is never easy. First there's finding a new home, then things like utilities, drivers license, schools for kids, satellite hook-up and on and on and on. And while you're still fretting over all that there's the new job. That starts with finding the best route to the stadium, securing a parking spot, meeting & sizing-up new co-workers, setting-up your locker and schmoozing the local press.
One more task that's too often left off the ball-player's moving list but can prove as important as any other: learning the new League. In this case, the American.
It’s one thing to dabble on the other side (interleague, World Series, Home Run Derby & Family Fun Show all-star game), it’s another to live there, day in, day out.
And don’t be fooled by interleague play.
Ever since MLB broke with a near 100-year old tradition (1997) and expanded League competition to a two-week period in the regular-season, the casual fan discerns no big difference between the rival confederations.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Each League retains a distinct style of play and strategy. Nuances remain in how runs are manufactured, navigating the base paths, use of pitchers and even fielder placement.
Then there's the designated-hitter rule, by itself enough to make each League unique.
Never a fan of the DH, I’ve nonetheless come to accept it as a trademark of the Junior Circuit, just as much as its absence is a defining trait for the National. To the degree that interleague play has homogenized baseball, the competing DH policies remain a hallmark of the Major League game which shouldn’t be lost. And the only ones who seem to feign frustration at the current state are a handful of writers and $-interested parties.
And there are the players themselves.
Succeeding in a new League requires homework: learning new pitchers, hitters, managers and even umpires, scorers and grounds-keepers to which you’d be wise to get accustomed.
It’s all more than enough to keep the multi-millionaire ball-player busy in the off-season.
But in listening to Al Pujols in spring training I got the feeling that the former Redbird and World Series hero didn’t do his studies. When asked what he was doing differently to prepare for the big change his answer was essentially…nothing. Bad answer.
It’s good to be confident but a little practicality, humility never hurt anyone and goes a long way in helping transition and insure $200 million investments.
Here’s how things stand between the two titans as of this posting (4/30):
Fielder: 22 GS / 13 R / 25 H / 2 2B / 3 HR / 11 RBI / .444 SLG / .309 BA.
Pujols: 22 GS / 7 R / 19 H / 7 2B / 0 HR / 4 RBI / .295 SLG / .216 BA.
Fielder has two distinct advantages over Albert in the transition game: 1) father and former American slugging star Cecil Fielder, and 2) teammate Miguel Cabrera.
While a rift had developed between Prince and his father, recent word is that both are now on speaking terms (Detroit Free Press / “Cecil” / Schrader / 1-24). Though Dad downplays the significance of League difference (“If you’re a good hitter, you’re a good hitter” / DFP), I can’t imagine Cecil has not imparted some helpful & pointed words of advice.
And with a game-changer like Cabrera in the line-up, how nervous can you be? Miguel’s numbers: 22 GS / 15 R / 25 H / 7 HR / 20 RBI / .571 SLG / .298 BA. By contrast, in LA it’s Mark Trumbo who's surprisingly the current pace-setter for the struggling Halos (3 HR / 8 RBI / .304 BA).
But not to worry, Angels’ fans. Pujols’ bread & butter with the bat has always been two-baggers and in that department he’s doing just fine (7). It’s something to build on.
One name Pujols might keep in mind: Adam Dunn. Dunn was an RBI machine in the Senior Circuit for ten years (Reds / AZ / Nats). In his American League debut last season with Chicago he bottomed-out (11 HR / 42 RBI / .159 BA). He’s finding his mojo again in 2012 (22 GS / 11 R / 5 HR / 16 RBI) but exhibited the same nonchalance about League disparity.
Dunn cost the White Sox a pretty penny but Pujols cost a king’s ransom. Angels’ brass and fandom have little patience for a long learning-curve.
In the game of baseball, knowledge is power.