LAKELAND, Fla. — Just like their father, Jadyn and Haven Fielder love baseball.
They wear his No. 28 on their junior-sized Detroit Tigers uniforms and are constantly playing pickup games or catch on any patch of vacant grass they can find at Marchant Stadium or the TigerTown complex.
Sometimes they accompany their father, Prince, to batting practice to watch him swat balls into the pine trees or parking lots beyond the fields. Between rounds, he will toss a ball around with them or assure that they are standing behind the cage and out of harm’s way.
It takes me back to Prince following his own father, Cecil, around the clubhouse and field at Tiger Stadium. Tony Phillips, the spark-plug infielder, befriended Prince and would horse around with him.
There was the time when Phillips deposited him in a trash can, and you’ve probably seen the video of Prince taking batting practice at the old ballpark and hitting some out before he was even a teenager.
Watching his kids play now makes me wonder if there won’t be a third generation of Fielders in the big leagues somewhere around 2030.
Jadyn, 8, has an ultra-quick stroke and Haven, 6, has power. For now, they’re playing Little League baseball in Windermere, an affluent community located between downtown Orlando and Disney World.
“They both began swinging their mother’s brush when they were 2,” Prince said with a proud smile. “I never taught them how to swing. They just knew how to swing.
“To play the game in general for them is inherited. It was that way for me, too.”
His father, Cecil, played 13 seasons and hit 245 of his 319 homers for Detroit. Cecil was a two-time American League home-run champion, hitting a career-high 51 in 1990.
Prince has 260 homers in eight seasons and led the National League with a career-high 50 in 2007 with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Jadyn is lean and plays center field and second base. Haven is built like his father and plays second base and third base.
“Jadyn, he’s good, and Haven is the strongest kid on a 9-and-under team,” Prince said. “I love watching them play and having them here. I still want them with me during the season.”
Little League play in Florida begins in January and winds up in May, along with the school year, so that makes it easy to split for Detroit in the summer with Dad and Mom.
Prince’s wife, Chanel, loves watching her sons on the field with their father.
“The boys are 17 months apart and that makes it easy for them to play together,” she said.
Prince said there will be plenty of time for his sons to play in summer leagues as they get older. For now, he said there are great advantages in having them learning the routine of a major leaguer.
“I still want them with me,” Prince said. “You don’t have to play baseball all year round at this point. And I know what they will gain from being in here and around these players and coaches.
“I learned so much. And now this is giving my kids the same experiences. They play with some of the big kids of other players and coaches, too.
“Tony Phillips was my guy back in the day. I could not wait to see him and was always running around. I would wrestle with Tony, and one day he threw me in the trash can.”
Prince leaned back on his clubhouse stool, and his eyes sparkled at the memories.
The video of young Prince taking cuts in the batting cage at Tiger Stadium has been used by the Tigers in television promotions. Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, then a Tigers coach, was the one getting taken deep by the prodigy.
“I’m 11 or 12 in that one, and there’s a lefty batting practice pitcher in that video,” Prince said. “Terry Francona came up to me last year and told me it was him. I said, ‘How about that! Oh, it was you.’
“I was the same size as I am now, man. That’s unbelievable. I was short and was supposed to grow taller.”
Cecil was 6-foot-3, 230 pounds in his playing days, and Prince is 5-11, 275 pounds. Father and son have had their differences in recent years, but Prince cherishes the good times and knows that growing up in a major-league atmosphere contributed to him breaking in with the Milwaukee Brewers five weeks after turning 21.
“Knowing what it was like in the major leagues, I wanted to get out of the minors as fast as I could,” Prince said. “The buses you ride and everything, whew.
“The game was tough in the majors, but I knew what to expect. I knew what the big leagues were, wow. And I wanted to get out of there.”
Prince was a first-round pick out of Eau Gaille High in Melbourne, Fla., and spent four years riding the buses at Ogden, Beloit, Huntsville and Nashville.
“I knew where I wanted to be,” Prince said. “I hope my sons get the same chance someday.”