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Fields breaks Naturals homer record

Once-retired 28-year-old earns spot in history with 30th blast
August 20, 2013

Ever since Matt Fields left Sea-Tac Airport, things have really taken off.

It was just over three years ago that Fields, the Rays' 44th-round pick in the 2004 Draft, decided to retire from baseball. Then 25 years old, he took a job at the Tacoma, Wash., airport loading luggage into planes.

As he tossed around one suitcase after another, he decided he wasn't done spending his summers living out of one.

He returned to independent baseball in 2011, joined the Royals organization in 2012 and on Tuesday etched his name into the Northwest Arkansas record book.

Fields hit his 30th home run, eclipsing the single-season team record and helping the Naturals set a franchise mark for runs in a 21-6 thumping of Springfield.

Northwest Arkansas' previous team record was 19 runs, accomplished most recently on July 22, 2010 against Arkansas. The outburst fell well short of the Texas League record of 51, set by Corsicana on June 15, 1902.

Fields erased the mark set in 2010 by Clint Robinson en route to winning the Texas League Triple Crown with 29 homers, 98 RBIs and a .335 batting average.

"Truthfully, it's a blessing," the Seattle native said. "It's the first season in the Minors where I actually hit 20-plus homers, and now I'm at 30. For me to be where I was a few years ago and to be where I am now, it's amazing."

Fields -- whose father, Andrew, was drafted by the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers and played basketball overseas -- spent six years in the Rays' system before losing his zeal for the game and deciding to retire at the end of 2010.

He returned home and took a job at the airport, quickly discovering that, despite his frustrations, the Minor League lifestyle was still more attractive than a future on the tarmac. That realization led him to sign with Southern Illinois of the independent Frontier League.

"It was just the fact that I knew for myself I would've regretted it," he said. "I'm still healthy, still young, and just given everything, I would've regretted it for the rest of my life. I had friends and family and people I love and care about kind of get me back."

Fields played well enough with the Miners in 2011 to land a spot with the Royals' Class A Advanced affiliate in Wilmington for 2012, where he batted .281 with 17 homers and a .904 OPS. Kansas City re-signed the first baseman and sent him to Northwest Arkansas, where -- literally -- the rest is history.

"I just got back to basics," Fields said. "I'm having fun, taking it all in. I took the politics out of it and the pressure off myself. I'm back to having fun.

"It's definitely a game, but it can get to you, especially at this level because it's your job. You want to perform all the time, but sometimes you go through slumps. If you're having fun and just playing the game, you'll be fine."

Lane Adams, meanwhile, fueled the Naturals with a homer and six RBIs in his second outburst in a week. The 23-year-old outfielder slugged three homers and drove in seven runs against Corpus Christi on Aug. 13. Those were his first three roundtrippers since a promotion from Wilmington in mid-July.

"He's coming into his own," Fields said. "He's always trying to work and learn. What he's doing now, to me, it's no surprise due to his work ethic."

Northwest Arkansas trailed, 5-3, when Adams delivered a two-run double in the sixth inning. Fields followed with his record-breaking homer, which also was his 12th of the season against Springfield. The three-run blast to left field put the Naturals in front for good.

Northwest Arkansas added five runs in the eighth as Brett Eibner picked up a pair of RBIs with a ground-rule double and Royals No. 9 prospect Cheslor Cuthbert smacked a pinch three-run homer.

The Naturals piled on seven runs in the ninth to break the team record.

Jake Seiner is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.