(Special Chronicle interview with Fielder in June 2009 at Comerica Park)
Prince Fielder, 25, in his short time as a Big Leaguer, has proven to be one of the game’s best young players.
When one examines the history of fathers that have ascended to the professional level in any sport, and then we look at many of their offspring, it is safe to say that having a parent as a professional does not mean the kid or kids will follow. However, there have been a few that have inherited the valued sporting genes from Mom or Dad. Considering the long history of professional sports in America, the numbers are miniscule in relation to the thousands and thousands that have entertained us as professional athletes.
Noteworthy on the list are Calvin and Grant Hill, Bobby and Brett Hull, Nate Williams (Olympian) and Natalie Williams (NBA), Muhammad and Laila Ali, Joe and Kobe Bryant, Joe and Marvis Frazier, Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr.
Standing out in the father and offspring phenomenon are Bobby and Barry Bonds. Barry matched his father in the exclusive 30 home runs-30 stolen bases club. Anthony Dorsett matched his NFL Hall of Fame father, Tony Dorsett, as the first father and son to start in a Super Bowl.
Maybe top on the list are Cecil and Prince Fielder. There has never been in the long history of Major League Baseball a father smash at least 50 home runs and the son later matches him. Cecil, playing for the Tigers in 1990 slammed 51 dingers and in 2007 Prince blasted 50 home runs. Both led their league in home runs.
“I lived in Detroit from the first grade to the sixth,” Prince told me. “I use to hang out at Tiger Stadium all the time. I was friends with a lot of the players. I really have fond memories of my time in Detroit. In fact, I had to take a trip over to the stadium just to look at it.”
Prince acknowledged that his dad exposed him to baseball but he never expected what has happened to him as a player.
“When you grow up you always hope to be a big leaguer,” Prince said, “but I never expected it to happen like it has. Being an all-star and leading the league in home runs is way more than my dreams allowed me to dream. I just wanted to be in the league and compete.”
Cecil was 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, and it is no doubt his son has his genes, as Prince is 5-foot-11, and 270 pounds.
Shorter but heavier, there was some concern about Prince’s weight, but he has dedicated himself to arresting that problem.
After he produced a remarkable 2007 season, at 23, where he 50 home runs, 119 RBI and a solid .288 batting average, many were wondering if it was a fluke. Many experts pegged him as a very average fielding first baseman that was destined to be a career designated hitter.
However, Fielder told me that he looked at himself in the mirror and declared that he had to control his eating and weight. So he made the wise choice for his career and for his long-term health; he went on a vegetarian diet after the 2007 season.
Eating vegetables, he still produced in 2008 34 home runs, 102 RBI and a .276 batting average. As the 2009 season progresses, he now has 17 home runs and close to 70 RBI’s, Prince is on tract to slam close to 40 home runs and drive in over 100 runs (He indeed exceeded my 2009 projections slamming 46 home runs, with 141 RBI’s).
With the weight loss he has turned himself into a better fielder, his speed is increased and by all accounts he is playing the best all-around game of his life.
“I’m listening and trying to learn as much as possible,” Prince said. “I’m working on everything about my game — training, nutrition, being patient at the plate, reading the pitchers and my defense. I want to continue to grow as a player.”
Prince has already placed himself and Dad as one of the greatest father and son professionals in any sport, and it appears he will be tearing up the league for a while. (At the time of this interview neither of us had any idea that in three years he’d be a Tiger.)