The Return of the Prince
It wasn’t there anymore. The fire in his eyes, the jolliness that surrounded him, his smile no longer lighting up a diamond. Prince Fielder was in a slump, and neither the local beat nor the slugger himself could seem to identify what the problem was. Our fearless leader here at SDI took a shot at it. It all started in August, as we steadily started seeing his average drop from the .330 mark. At first, it was just thought of as leveling off – a law of averages occurrence, probably. By the time September rolled around though, the concern was there that Prince Fielder might not finish the season above .300.
Was it that he was pushing too hard? Was he trying to carry the team on his back and was finally succumbing to the pressure of 24 other men leaning on him? Had the toll of his first year back after missing nearly a year because of injury finally caught up to him? Was this a sign of something to watch out for during the rest of his contract – a primary designated hitter on the wrong side of 30 starting to feel the wear and tear of a season just as a team needed him the most? Fielder was still spraying the ball to all fields, but the balls were just finding gloves or foul territory, so was it just bad luck?
His worst stretch came during that exhausting west coast road trip, starting in Anaheim. 0-for-5, 0-for-4, 0-for-4, 1-for-5, 1-for-4, 0-for-4. Maybe taking the field in San Diego had messed with his newly found rhythm as DH. So the Rangers came back home, still in a good contending spot, with other pieces of the lineup starting to click and hit. Their Prince, however, still looked lost…and frustrated…and burnt out.
Fielder would single in the bottom of the third in that first game against Oakland, but struck out twice and grounded out in the same game. Then, perhaps, the turning point. Even though it was a loss for the team, the score was brought closer by The Big Fella. With two on, Fielder rocketed a pitch to left-center. Should Craig Gentry have made the play? Sure, it could be argued that it was a catchable ball. But he didn’t, and Prince Fielder, who had not been considered a clutch hitter in at least three weeks, rounded second base as two men crossed the plate, and enthusiastically clapped his hands. He was doing his part to get the team rallied, but the solo round of applause might as well have been for himself, because finally, he had found out what was ailing him.
The next day, it was two hits and two other well-struck balls. He also scored a run. Fielder was knocking on the door. On Monday night, at the start of one of the most pivotal games and series his team had ever known this season, Prince Fielder not only opened the door back to Hitsville, he busted through. He singled two batters ahead of Mitch Moreland‘s homer. Moreland – the guy that earlier in the year Prince said needed to play first base instead of him because it made the team better. Then, in the bottom of the 8th, when his team needed a fire lit under them in the worst way…
There it was. The smile. The light. The double tap of his own hands on his own head (to keep his helmet on?) as he rounded second. The extended acknowledgement of the rising sea of Red as he came down the third baseline. The self-imposed “safe” sign as he crossed home plate to bash forearms with every teammate he came across. They realized, we realized, and Prince Fielder realized something big – he was back.
After the game, Fielder let us all in on a little secret. He had, in fact, been trying too hard. In trying to adapt his approach as the season wore on, he concentrated too much on his mechanical changes. He was actively thinking about things like where his hips were pointed, where his swing path was taking the bat, all of the things that, when you’re learning to swing a bat, you should be thinking about. When you’re an established hitter, thinking about those things, you don’t swing the bat on time. When you’re Prince (MF’ing) Fielder, the only thing you need to worry about is being ready to put the bat on the ball. Prince Fielder knows how to hit a ball. He just needed to get out of his own head.
In Tuesday’s game, not only did Fielder drive in the first run of the game with his bat, but he made the full transformation into The Unstoppable Juggernaut – once he got going from first base, absolutely nothing was going to stop him. Even if Tony Beasley had thrown up the stop sign at third, that was a lot of momentum that wasn’t going to stop. Perhaps that image is fitting for the remainder of the season, because now that Fielder has gotten going, can anybody stop him?
He just needed to “get ready to hit.” Oh, he was ready.
And if he’s ready, so am I. Are you? Welcome back, Prince Fielder.