Are these the most important four months in franchise history for the
Prince Fielder is going, going. ...
I absolutely, positively adore the way the Brew Crew is swinging for the fences this year with a lame-duck Prince. Though he loves Milwaukee and Milwaukee loves him right back, it's all but a foregone conclusion that Fielder will be wearing another uniform next year. Scott Boras is his agent. Boras loves high bids the way puppies love bones. The math is pretty much done. The Brewers will be in no position to outspend baseball's Daddy Riches this winter.
|Prince Fielder, in his contract year, could be in another uniform in 2012. (Getty Images)|
So Prince, one of the most enigmatic, productive and huggable players ever to walk down East Wisconsin Ave. (apologies to Gorman Thomas), is swinging away as a short-timer for a team scrounging for a return to the playoffs for only the second time in 29 seasons.
Without question, one of the most pivotal decisions the Brewers have ever made.
Without question, these next four months rank as some of the most important in Milwaukee hardball history.
The most important? One local native who has devoted his life to baseball (for the past 56 years) and his voice to the Brewers (for the past 41 years) votes no.
"We've had guys like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor and the like," legendary Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Uecker says. "The franchise is always going to be there.
"Fans are going to love him if he stays, and fans are going to love him if he leaves. He's one of my closest friends on the team. I love watching him. I'm hoping we keep him. He's a hell of a competitor. He's improved so much at first base. Every aspect of his game, he's elevated."
Which is part of why it will be such a shame if this season is serving as last call for Fielder with the Brewers.
A first-round pick in 2002 (seventh overall), Fielder is everything a homegrown, hometown star should be. Swings hard, works hard, smiles hard. Two-time All-Star. Finished third in NL MVP voting in '07, fourth in '09. Gives back locally (among other things, he and his wife, Chanel, donated enough dough to the Ronald McDonald House of Eastern Wisconsin in '09 that they built a new outdoor play area for kids). Gives back ambassador-ially (he traveled to China and Japan last winter to promote baseball).
But that's today's baseball. Cut your teeth, then fly the coop.
Prince playing someplace other than Milwaukee?
"It's going to be hard to picture because I've been here my whole career," Fielder says. "I'm focusing on this year. I'm going to enjoy it. Here or not next year, I don't know."
Fielder says he wasn't so much surprised to return in 2010 as he was thrilled that a tight-knit and supremely talented core group that includes Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart was left intact.
"That's what I'm more happy over," Fielder says. "It could have been me back but, for us to not trade anyone, and to bring the core of the team back, that was really good.
"They're definitely doing everything they can to go for it all. Everybody's not looking too far ahead."
As for the five-year, $105 million extension Braun signed on April 21, Fielder -- at $15.5 million in 2011 -- says it doesn't make him wonder what life would be like with a future both financially and geographically secure.
"No, no," Fielder says. "I'm happy for him. It's a big deal. It's a big accomplishment, to sign a contract for anything, let alone a multi-year deal like that. I'm really happy for him."
So, too, are the rest of the Brewers -- and they're playing like it.
They've now won 13 of 16 games through midweek and, with Wednesday's win, extended their home winning streak to nine games -- longest in Miller Park's 11 years. They're finally getting some semblance of their full squad together. Greinke is back from the fractured rib suffered during his basketball odyssey and Hart is back from an oblique strain.
Now, well-stocked and well-positioned, they're keenly aware of time and place.
"We all were surprised," that Fielder wasn't traded, Hart says, looking back to the winter. "We felt they were going to go get [a pitcher], but to get somebody the caliber of a Marcum or Greinke, we thought they'd have to trade a guy like Prince."
Now? Prince hears a different tone when he's out about town, things having changed from warm greetings to pleas of "We've gotta keep you."
"Every now and then," Fielder says. "And that's great. I'm here this year. That's what I'm giving 'em. Everything I have this year."
Same thing the Brewers are giving 'em. And good for them.
Yes, the franchise is always going to be there. But how often is a franchise that has never won a World Series going to have the chance it has now?
That's why, if these next four months aren't the most important in Brewers history, they're darn close.
"I don't know about the most important, but we want to win now," Weeks says. "We've had good teams that just couldn't get over the hump. In '08, with CC [Sabathia]."
"Maybe," Fielder allows, smiling and rubbing his chin. "But I don't think of it like that.
"That sounds like a lot of pressure. I think that would give us all anxiety if we thought of it that way.
"Every game's the biggest game of the year. That's easier on the brain."