- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
- 0 Shares
PHOENIX -- The friendly folks in Phoenix didn't show Prince Fielder much love upon his arrival here in the desert. Upset over Fielder's decision to spurn local favorite Justin Upton in his role as Home Run Derby team captain, Arizona fans booed him throughout Monday's competition.
Fielder kept his mouth shut throughout the festivities, took his punishment like a man and ultimately starred in the best of all possible revenge scenarios: He left town with the All-Star Game MVP trophy -- and a brand-new teammate, to boot.
Talk about a winning haul. Fielder's three-run homer off C.J. Wilson was all the offense the National League team needed in a 5-1 victory over the American League squad. And just moments after his postgame news conference, Fielder returned to the clubhouse and learned the Brewers had fortified their bullpen with a trade for Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez, who will give Milwaukee a very accomplished setup man in front of John Axford.
If the Brewers meant to send a signal that they're serious about winning in 2011, it certainly resonated with their All-Star first baseman.
"He's definitely going to bring the success he's had in his career and that confidence to the team,'' Fielder said of Rodriguez. "You can never have too many guys.
"As a player, you appreciate it because you're going out there every day wanting to win. When management makes moves like that, you see they're going for it with you and trying to help as much as they can.''
Fielder, a seasoned veteran at age 27, is in the middle of a potential watershed season in his career. He's eligible for free agency this winter, and every day brings him a step closer to leaving the organization that he joined as the seventh overall pick in the 2002 draft.
If this is it for Fielder in Milwaukee, he's going out with a bang. He leads the league with 72 RBIs, and he ranks among the NL's top five in homers (22), slugging percentage (.575), walks (58), on-base percentage (.417) and total bases (184).
Some players press in their "walk'' years, but Fielder credits his success to a full-fledged immersion in team goals. He used the words "win'' or "winning'' six times in explaining his success this season. If that doesn't break Charlie Sheen's personal record, it's close.
"Whenever you have a good team, nobody has a bad year on the team,'' Fielder said. "When you're focused on winning and your team is winning, the personal achievements will come. But if you're not winning, it's that much harder.''
Fielder, who won the 2009 Home Run Derby in St. Louis, failed to advance beyond the second round in this year's competition. But he saved the big swing for when it mattered most. After singles by Carlos Beltran and Matt Kemp in the fourth inning, Fielder drove a 2-2 cutter from Wilson to deep center field. The ball bounced off the top of the fence and over it for a three-run shot to give the NL a 3-1 lead.
For all the focus on his stocky frame and impressive power, Fielder has a pretty good idea what he's doing at the plate. He's hitting .291 with an .821 OPS against left-handed pitching this year, and Wilson qualified as another notch on his belt.
"There are only a few guys in the league who never miss a mistake, and [Fielder] one of them,'' Padres closer Heath Bell said. "Prince is a bigger guy, so pitchers think, 'Maybe I can get him inside,' but you can't. He's too quick. He goes up there thinking. He's not just hacking. He's got a plan.''
Prince is a bigger guy, so pitchers think, 'Maybe I can get him inside,' but you can't. He's too quick.
”-- Padres' Heath Bell on Fielder
There was a touch of irony Tuesday night when AL manager Ron Washington mistakenly referred to Prince as "Cecil,'' given the highly publicized rift between Prince and his dad, the former big league first baseman and 50-homer man. Prince Fielder showed up at the postgame news conference with his young sons, Jadyn and Haven, by his side. Little Haven, sporting a Mohawk haircut with pink highlights, elicited laughs when he accidentally took a sip of a protein drink and wrinkled up his face in disgust.
And lot of conflicting emotions and thoughts must be running through Fielder's heart and mind at the moment. The Brewers are first in the NL Central coming out of the break, and Fielder can't help but realize that he might be playing in a postseason series, then saying goodbye to the Milwaukee fans who've supported him since his rookie year.
It's been quite a run. This week in Phoenix, Fielder joined Ken Griffey Jr., Garret Anderson, Miguel Tejada, Cal Ripken Jr. and Dave Parker as the sixth player to pocket a Home Run Derby title and an All-Star Game MVP award in his career.
Not a bad distinction for a guy who was persona non grata at Chase Field a couple of nights ago.
"I didn't take it too personal,'' Fielder said. "I probably would have booed myself, too, if I was an Arizona fan.''
So if Fielder had to do it over again, he would have bowed to the public pressure and picked Upton for the NL squad?
Fielder smiled the smile of an unrepentant slugger before giving his response.
"Absolutely not,'' he said.
Follow Jerry Crasnick on Twitter: @jcrasnick
6hInterview by Buster Olney