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Fielder wins back fans with MVP heroics
Jaydn Fielder is 6. Haven Fielder is 5. Their father is “the greatest person” in their universe, as their mother, Chanel, said late Tuesday night.
Prince Fielder also happens to be one of the best sluggers on the planet, so it was unusual and disconcerting for young Jaydn and Haven to see (and hear) the harsh treatment their father received over the past 48 hours.
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Fans of the host Arizona Diamondbacks were upset that Fielder didn’t pick hometown favorite Justin Upton to represent the National League at Monday’s All-Star Home Run Derby. Fielder selected Brewers teammate Rickie Weeks instead. So they booed Fielder throughout Monday’s derby and during the early stages of Tuesday’s game. And that wasn’t even the worst of it.
During Tuesday’s red carpet parade, some fans splashed water on the Fielder family.
“It was ridiculous,” Chanel Fielder said. “It was very sad, trying to explain to the kids why people were throwing water, why people were booing. (Monday) night, we tried to explain to them, ‘Daddy didn’t pick Justin Upton.’ We went through the whole spiel of why people were booing, trying to explain to them it had nothing to do with Daddy’s ability. It just had to do with what people thought was fair.”
Under the circumstances, some jeers would have been understandable. But the incessant booing over two days was completely uncalled for and reflected poorly on Arizona fans. Upton himself said, “I thought it was kind of rough. They could have cleaned up the boos a little bit.” In order to win back the locals, there was probably only one thing Fielder could do — hit a game-winning home run for the National League in the All-Star Game.
Which, of course, he did.
Fielder played the hero Tuesday, pulverizing a three-run homer off Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson to account for the deciding runs in the NL’s 5-1 triumph. Naturally, the front-running crowd went bonkers when the ball (barely) cleared the fence in left-center. Fielder earned MVP honors (not to mention a crystal bat) for his good deed. And he reacted to it as he has in many other instances when he has shined this year: He smiled, shared the moment with his family, and talked about his success with the right combination of satisfaction and perspective.
“I understood,” Fielder said, when asked about the fans’ abrupt change in sentiment. “That just shows you how much Justin means to them. I didn’t take it personal at all. I think these guys (Jaydn and Haven) took it more personal than me.
“No hard feelings. . . . I mean, I probably would have booed myself, too, if I was an Arizona fan.”
In the past, Fielder might not have offered such measured words in an emotional moment. Remember: Even though he’s been playing in the major leagues since 2005, Fielder is only 27 years old. It was only last year that trade speculation seemed to make him press, resulting in a career-low .261 batting average.
But this year, with even more at stake, Fielder appears downright serene. He’s headed for a massive free-agent payday, and, unless the Brewers win the World Series, it’s quite likely that he’ll get it somewhere other than Milwaukee. He may be months away from leaving the only professional organization he’s ever known. And yet he’s responded to the uncertainty by slugging his way into the NL MVP discussion, with a league-best 72 RBI during the first half.
Whenever Fielder is asked what helps him stay focused, his answer is the same: I play on a great team. The Brewers entered the break tied for the National League Central lead and added a key piece over the All-Star break with the acquisition of reliever Francisco Rodriguez.
Fellow Brewers All-Star Ryan Braun said of Fielder: “He’s really at peace with the situation. We all recognize his impending free agency. It just makes it a lot easier because we’re winning games.”
“He wants to win,” Chanel said. “It would break his heart if we didn’t get (to the World Series) — because '08 was so, so, so close. He wants to experience everything here before he leaves — if we do. . . . We’re preparing to stay with Milwaukee. That’s obviously where we want to be, where we’ve been. . . . But we have to be realistic and know that in the next (few) months it's going to be a little bit different.”
Of course, it’s impossible to discuss Fielder’s free agency without mentioning The Other Guy. Yes, Albert Pujols has been the better player over a longer period of time. But Pujols is older. He’s been on the disabled list season. And he wasn’t in Phoenix on Tuesday, where his exploits could be beamed into millions of homes around the world.
Fielder was. I have written before in this space that Fielder may deserve a bigger contract than Pujols this winter. Tuesday’s events — including the way Fielder performed in front of a hostile crowd — reinforced that feeling.
But the Fielder family is thinking about October, not November. Chanel offered no bulletin-board material when I mentioned to her that her husband has better numbers now than the great Pujols. (“They’re both great where they’re at,” she said.) Jaydn and Haven might watch their dad play somewhere other than Milwaukee next year, but perhaps not before they witness a much grander celebration than they saw Tuesday night.
“We think,” Chanel said, “we’re going to the World Series.”