Fielder’s intensity carries Brewers into 2008 seasonPHOENIX — Prince Fielder had no plans to give up his quest to recycle. Fielder hassled the clubhouse attendants
By: By COLIN FLY/AP Sports Writer, The Daily Telegram
PHOENIX — Prince Fielder had no plans to give up his quest to recycle.
Fielder hassled the clubhouse attendants relentlessly one spring day about their resistance until they set up a system for him to go green. It’s just another way the 23-year-old slugger controls every facet of the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers are his team now, and his ebullience, drive and intensity carries — and sometimes scares — his teammates and manager.
‘‘To be the leader of a major league team and the heart and soul of a major league team at his age is very unusual,’’ said manager Ned Yost, who acknowledged his first baseman could be the most intense player he’s ever seen. ‘‘He’s special.’’
Carlos Villanueva’s locker is beside last year’s NL home run king who, by the way, decided to become a vegetarian just before spring training began.
What happens when Fielder is in a bad mood?
‘‘He can be mean to people. You see him laugh all the time, but my locker is right beside his in Milwaukee and I’ve seen people try to talk to him when he’s locked and he’ll be — even with friends on the team — he’ll be like, ‘Not now,’’’ Villanueva said.
What if he’s angry?
‘‘I try to just step away,’’ the starting pitcher said. ‘‘I don’t even want to know what would happen. I just go.’’
And the rest of the team follows Fielder, who hopes to take the Brewers to the postseason for the first time since 1982.
Milwaukee almost got there last season, but an 81?2-game lead in late June dwindled until the Brewers were eliminated the final week of the season and finished 83-79.
Fielder, meanwhile, kept hitting with a franchise-record 50 homers and 119 RBIs.
Protecting Ryan Braun, Fielder also helped the rookie slugger hit 34 homers and drive in 97 runs in only 113 games to make one of the most imposing duos in the league.
But make no mistake, Fielder has been groomed to be the leader from the start even if Yost had his doubts when he saw the son of former power hitter Cecil Fielder for the first time.
‘‘There were times where I’d bring him in my office in here (in Phoenix) because an umpire would call a bad call on him or he’d make a bad play and he’d hang his head and mope around,’’ Yost said. ‘‘I’d bring him in here and tell him to knock that crap off. When we brought him to the big leagues and I thought, ‘Man, I’m going to have this kid in my office once a week.’ I’ve never had to have him in my office. Ever, ever, ever.’’
Still, Fielder acknowledges his intensity has gotten the best of him. He’s been suspended for arguing calls, yet he manages to joke about how he’s been ejected, characterizing the discussions with umpires as about everything from pizza toppings to what inning the game was in.
Fielder says he’s motivated by being labeled a ‘‘fat kid’’ growing up, until he started turning heads when he began hitting homers at major league parks while tagging along with his now-estranged father. ‘‘Growing up I was always the fat kid, so I wasn’t able to do much,’’ Fielder said. ‘‘I think that’s why I kind of play like that.’’
And it motivates him to a point that not even Tony Gwynn Jr., one of his closest friends on the team, can understand how a player can be so focused on the field and remain loose off it.
‘‘I’ve been trying to figure it out ever since I’ve known him. But he finds a way to do it, and he’s very good at being able to be cool and funny and when he starts to make that walk toward the dugout, he has the ability to transform into Prince on the field,’’ Gwynn said. ‘‘That’s what makes him who he is.’’
Fielder now has a heap of expectations, and he’ll be relied on to keep the clubhouse from becoming too stressful like last season.
‘‘Everybody around our team, everybody, from the general manager, manager, players, clubhouse attendants, we’re trying to win now,’’ principal owner Mark Attanasio said. ‘‘That’s what we’re all trying to do.’’
Attanasio gave general manager Doug Melvin the go-ahead to sign two pricey free agents to one-year deals. Milwaukee gave three-time Gold Glove center fielder Mike Cameron $7 million and added former NL Cy Young winner Eric Gagne for $10 million.
The two each carry baggage from their past — Cameron will spend the first 25 games suspended for testing positive for a banned stimulant for the second time while Gagne was named in the Mitchell Report on drugs. Cameron’s arrival means Bill Hall moves back to third base while Braun, the NL Rookie of the Year, will be in left field after committing 26 errors.
Melvin, who also added catcher Jason Kendall and relievers David Riske, Guillermo Mota and Salomon Torres, thinks the pieces are finally in place and includes a deep rotation of ace Ben Sheets, who is in the final year of his contract, Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra, Dave Bush and Villanueva. Young right-hander Yovani Gallardo is rehabilitating from left knee surgery and is expected to join the group later next month.
‘‘We know what the expectations are — go out and play consistent baseball, perform at a high level and hope that takes you to the postseason,’’ Melvin said. ‘‘We feel we have the team and the ability to do that.’’
And they’ll be able to score a lot of runs, too. That revolves around Prince.
‘‘There’s only a few hitters in the league really intimidate teams and managers. You’re looking to see when this guy gets up, and he’s one of them at such a young age,’’ Yost said. ‘‘The double whammy is, ‘When is Fielder and Braun coming up and how do I get by that?’’’