Prince Fielder doesn't want anyone to know what's going on in his mind. A typically loose, smiling slugger, he's been known to erupt, ripping into teammates.
But is it real?
"He probably picked that up from me," Frank Kremblas said with a laugh. "I loved messing around with the guys, I'd always do it to them. I'd get on Prince about some dumb thing, 'What the hell were you thinking?' But I think that's good, that's part of keeping your teammates a little off-balance."
Fielder, the Brewers hulking first baseman, is still known to mess with teammates in the clubhouse. It's one of many things he picked up in the Minor Leagues.
And Fielder isn't really that abrasive. In fact, Kremblas -- who managed him in 2004 and 2005 -- said Fielder's personality was the most memorable thing about him.
"First of all, he's an outstanding person," said Kremblas, who guided Double-A Huntsville in 2004 and Triple-A Nashville in '05. "I always thought that was one of the things about Prince. He and Rickie Weeks and Tony Gwynn, all three high picks, they were all outstanding people."
Fielder's Minor League journey ended in 2005 with Kremblas, but it wasn't exactly a smooth ride to the Majors. The 6-footer, conservatively listed at 260 pounds, dealt with weight issues, defensive struggles and a deteriorating relationship with his father throughout his rise to Milwaukee.
Fielder, the son of former Major Leaguer Cecil Fielder, grew up around baseball, clinging to his father in Major League clubhouses and getting acclimated to the life of a star. The myths of his childhood float above his career -- he's denied stories that he hit an upper-deck batting practice homer at old Tiger Stadium as a 12-year-old. Cecil allegedly told his then-5-year-old son to switch sides and bat left-handed.
"You'll thank me for it later," he told him.
Fielder hung around the Yankees clubhouse and watched Derek Jeter as a rookie in 1996, deciding to model himself after the Bombers' future captain.
"He's very mature in his approach," Kremblas said. "He wants to be good and have a long career."
Fielder, like Jeter, was a highly touted talent out of high school.
"He didn't flaunt his No. 1 pick status, he went out there and played the game," said Don Money, Fielder's manager from 2002-03 at Class A Beloit. "Of course, he had a nice car, probably a nicer car than me at the time, but he didn't flaunt it. He went about his business."
Fielder's natural talents shined during his high school days. He hit .524 with 10 homers, 13 doubles, 41 RBIs and 47 runs scored as a senior at Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Fla., enough for the Brewers to look past his weight and defensive shortcomings. Milwaukee selected him in the first round of the 2002 Draft and gave him a $2.4 million signing bonus.
Cecil reportedly took a large chunk of his son's money, sparking the beginning of a stormy relationship. Fielder joined Rookie-level Ogden in 2002 and immediately showed off his skills, batting .390 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs in only 40 games. The Brewers bumped him up to Beloit to finish the year, where he had 27 hits in 32 games.
"He didn't pull many balls and he hit with good power, of course, but you could see," Money said. "He was only 18, but you could see he could hit -- he was a flat-out good hitter."
Fielder won Midwest League MVP honors in 2003, batting .313 with 27 homers and a circuit-leading 112 RBIs. He was named an All-Star as well as the league's Prospect of the Year.
"He showed tremendous pop," said Money. "When he came back, he was a year older, more mature, and he hit. He did a great job, he only had to work on his defense and he put a lot of time and effort into that. He turned into a pretty decent first baseman."
Kremblas inherited Fielder in 2004 at Double-A.
"I didn't know what to expect, I hadn't seen much of him," Kremblas recalled. "There's a big difference from A-ball to Double-A, the pitchers will try to get you out. He got to see a lot of good sequences and see how how they were pitching him with runners in scoring position."
Kremblas said Fielder's baseball IQ was apparent. While his father was an all-or-nothing home run hitter, the younger Fielder was trying to be a complete player and team leader.
"He was really smart offensively. As any young kid, when they're coming up they try and get it done, not get their walks," said Kremblas. "But he did [walk], he worked hard. During BP, he went the other way a lot. He didn't pull the ball much, he'd hit left-field line drives."
Off the field, Fielder continued to deal with family issues. He cut off his father and largely refused to speak about the relationship with teammates or the media.
"It was a tough year for him that year," Kremblas said. "His girlfriend at the time, now his wife [Chanel], was pregnant with their first kid, and so he wasn't sure what was going on. The situation with his dad wasn't a very good one. It was a good year for a 19-year-old, but not with the off-the-field stuff, for the most part."
Fielder continued to work on his defense, taking extra drills and focusing on improving his game. His father, never known for his athleticism, spent much of his career as a designated hitter.
"He worked hard, he worked on his defense, he wanted to be a good first baseman," Kremblas said. "That was what took the longest, to develop into an average first baseman. It was going to take time."
"He just got better and better, and now he's a pretty solid," Money added. "He's not the most agile player around, but he's made himself into an adequate first baseman. And that's from a lot of work in the Minor Leagues."
Nothing affected Fielder between the lines, however. He was named Minor League Player of the Year by USA Today and finished the season tied for third in the Southern League in extra-base hits (53), ranked fourth in RBIs (78) and eighth in doubles (21). He again was named an All-Star and was selected to the All-Star Futures Game at Houston's Minute Maid Park.
Fielder began the 2004 season hot, hitting .306 (22-for-72) with six homers and 15 RBIs in April and going deep in four consecutive games to end the month. He also batted .318 in September.
Kremblas said Fielder remained the center of attention in the clubhouse.
"I think the one thing he does really well is he's kind of a joker," he said. "He's silly, he's got that attitude before the game to stay loose. He's keeping the whole team loose."
"He was a kid, he acted like a kid," said Money. "But he was down to earth and he had his guys who he hung out with."
Money said Fielder knew he needed work on his defense.
"In the clubhouse, his locker was up front on the right and after games we'd have a meeting," recalled Money. "I'd look over at him and say, 'Early work tomorrow.' And he would hide back into his locker and I'd say, 'Prince don't hide, I know where you are.' But he put the time in early, I give him credit for that."
On the field, Fielder craved opportunities and pressure.
"One thing he wanted to be was the guy in the game-winning situation all the time," Kremblas said. "He wasn't as successful as he is now, but that was the big thing. He learned from that."
Fielder was promoted to Triple-A Nashville in 2005 -- as was Kremblas, who said he often watched Fielder mimic his teammates' swings while on-deck.
"It's funny, he can intimate players' swings really good. Really good," Kremblas said. "I think that tells you the body control he has and the coordination. He had a good eye for a young fella, but he would chase, too, sometimes. We would just try to tell him, 'Stay back, keep your zone the way it is, don't mess it up here.'"
Fielder made his Major League debut on June 13, 2005 in an interleague game in Tampa Bay. He doubled off Hideo Nomo for his first hit and later drove in a run.
"[He was ready] offensively, but he still needed work defensively," Kremblas said.
The Brewers returned their top prospect to Triple-A after a month, and Fielder took it a little hard.
"He went up for a month and I remember, he came back down and about his second game back, I was going to the mound one time for a pitching change," Kremblas recalled. "He came in with all the infielders and he apologized. He'd been emotionally let down. It was very mature of him, he needed to know where he was emotionally."
Despite the reassignment, Fielder knew he'd be back up soon. He continued working with the Sounds and, so the myths go, drew large crowds during batting practice.
Kremblas said that's not totally accurate.
"He's not a home run guy in BP, he would hit the ball the other way," Kremblas said. "He'd ask for some balls in if he needed some work, but he had a really disciplined approach. We would get some fans [for BP], but not a whole lot. Most of the time you couldn't get in earlier to see us hit anyway."
Brewers fans knew what they had, though. Fielder returned to the Majors on Aug. 17, 2005, and finished the season with Milwaukee as the Majors' sixth-youngest player. He hit his second career pinch home run and his first career walk-off shot on Aug. 31 against Pittsburgh, a two-run drive off Jose Mesa.
Krembas, who said he's tried to follow Fielder's career, had one more jab for his former slugger.
"When he slides, it's kinda funny," he laughed. "But beyond the silly things, one thing that you don't want to do is make him angry.
"I've seen him scare teams back into their dugout. Entire teams."
Minor League career breakdown
2002: Fielder is assigned to Rookie-level Ogden to begin his career, fresh out of high school. He finishes second in the Pioneer League with 10 homers and ends the season with Class A Beloit.
2003: Groomed to be a star, Fielder shows off his power and skill. He's named Midwest League MVP, Prospect of the Year and an All-Star in his first full season in the Minors with Beloit. |
2004: Fielder is named Minor League Player of the Year by USA Today after hitting .272 with 23 homers and 78 RBIs in 135 games with Double-A Huntsville. It's his second -- and final -- full season in the Minors. |
2005: No longer speaking with his father, Fielder is determined to make a name for himself in baseball. He bats .291 with 28 homers and 86 RBIs in 103 games with Triple-A Nashville, earning a promotion in June and a second callup in August. It's only two years before he blasts 50 homers for Milwaukee. |