MARYVALE, Ariz. -- So there was this book on the kitchen counter when Prince Fielder happened to walk through his house one day this winter.
Not unusual. His wife, Chanel, is an avid reader, and anyone who has seen Prince, at 5-11 and a solid 270 pounds, knows he's probably no stranger to the kitchen.
|Prince Fielder is baseball's most unlikely vegetarian. (Getty Images)|
"I'll be honest," Fielder says. "If that wasn't the title, I probably wouldn't have looked at it. I was like, 'What is this?'
"I picked it up and I read the first chapter. And I was like, 'Wow, this makes sense.'"
Say hello to Milwaukee's Fresh Prince, baseball's most unlikely vegetarian.
He smashed a National League-leading 50 home runs last season, finished third in the NL Most Valuable Player voting and established himself as a perennial MVP candidate.
Now, he enters 2008 as the leading candidate for the PETA Player of the Year award.
Uh, that's People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
As opposed to PECOTA -- acronym for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm -- the cutting-edge system for projecting player performances devised by the brains at Baseball Prospectus. Which, by the way, projects 38 homers and 111 RBI from Fielder this summer.
"I always watch different channels," Fielder says. "But when I read something, it sticks with me differently.
"The way they treat animals, in the book it says, 'You are what you eat.' And I thought, 'Wow, if I am what I eat' ...
"I love meat, but it grossed me out," he says.
This is an outgoing, funny and sensitive young man -- he turns 24 on May 9 -- who thinks about a whole array of things besides hitting a curve ball and which brand of cleats to wear. A red bag, for example, hangs from his locker here. And when most of the Brewers finish their water or Gatorade this spring, well ...
"He has everyone in here recycling bottles," Brewers third baseman Bill Hall says.
That idea came not only from the Discovery Channel, but also from viewing Al Gore's Academy Award-winning movie, An Inconvenient Truth.
"I just looked in the trash and saw so much plastic, it made me feel bad," Fielder says. "I figured, at least I can start with myself. Because I crush water. I drink it all the time.
"You watch the Discovery Channel, and especially with the movies coming out ... it scares me a little."
It's a testament to the respect Fielder commands both as a player and as a person that the Brewers aren't treating his beliefs lightly. Clubhouse manager Tony Migliaccio already quietly has told Fielder that he will make sure to stock more than just salad for Fielder to eat after games this season. Traveling secretary Dan Larrea volunteered that he will provide vegetarian options on team charter flights.
Fielder, who no longer eats fish, either, is greatly appreciative.
"I don't want to be a burden," he says.
Says Hall: "You can't argue with a guy who is trying to better himself, better his way of living."
The betterment carries wide-ranging implications, especially for a man who last season, at 23, supplanted Hall of Famer Willie Mays as the youngest player to hit 50 or more homers.
For one thing, in a fan base closely associated with bratwurst and world-class tailgating, you can already sense the trepidation: How's Fielder going to go deep as often fueled by tofu and wheat grass? The man is going to need his red meat!
More importantly, Fielder can sense it, too. Though truth be told, when he belted his first spring home run last week, his reaction ranged far more toward amusement than relief.
"Everyone was saying how many home runs would I hit as a vegetarian," Fielder says. "I told the guys when I got back to the dugout, 'Hey, guys, I'm OK! I'm still hitting home runs even if I'm not eating meat!'"
Trainer Roger Caplinger and strength coach Chris Joyner have spoken with him, emphasizing the danger of protein and iron deficiencies in a non-meat diet.
Nothing, by the way, he hadn't heard this winter from the nutritionist employed through his agent, Scott Boras, and, um, from the owner of the book that started it all.
"My wife told me, 'I know you don't want to eat meat, but that doesn't mean you eat 10 pounds of bread,'" Fielder says. "I mean, when you're eating meat all of your life and then you don't, you're like, 'What is there to eat?'
"I grew up with meals of meat and something else. Some of these restaurant dishes, though, are pretty good. I don't want to just eat pasta all night."
His preferences run from black beans and rice to Boca burgers, the soy-based, meatless patties that substitute for his once-beloved cheeseburgers. What he's noticed so far is that he seems to have more energy and that his skin feels a better.
"I don't preach to people," Fielder says. "I don't want to make them uncomfortable. When people who don't know offer me meat, I just say, 'No thanks.'"
The irony of a young star -- and this young star in particular -- going vegetarian in this city isn't quite as entertaining as Fielder's spot-on imitations of dozens of batting stances (Mo Vaughn and David Ortiz are two of his finest that keep the Brewers' clubhouse in stitches). But it's certainly different.
In the land of the seventh-inning Sausage Races, here's a guy who, as a 10-year-old, starred with his father in a television ad for McDonalds triple cheeseburgers, of all things.
"I just remember it took all day," says Fielder, chuckling, who struck out his father, Cecil, in the commercial. "As a kid, your attention span is all over the place."
Fielder has honed that over the years and, his curiosity is wide-ranging. Mixed in with his offensive production in 2007 were 14 errors, most of any NL first baseman. This spring, in addition to watching what he eats, he's logging many more hours on the back fields with infield coach Dale Sveum.
"He's asked more questions than any young player I've ever been around," says Sveum, who is especially working with Fielder on improving the big man's footwork.
"On a scale of one to 10, he's a 10," Brewers manager Ned Yost says. "I've met very few players who are a 10, but he's a 10. He's very special.
"I heard that he was a vegetarian now. Someone mentioned that. Prince Fielder is not a guy I worry about.
"Whatever he's doing, he's doing it for the betterment of his teammates and for himself."
Be it powering tape-measure home runs, re-evaluating his eating habits or urging his teammates to recycle.
It's a fresh, new world in Milwaukee with the Brewers as contenders, and as long as Fielder continues to produce as part of the meat of the order, the club could care less about the lack of meat on his plate.