All-Star swing puts Fielder center stage
Homer in Arizona latest example of slugger's mammoth career
PHOENIX -- Prince Fielder's status as a premier power hitter needed no further validation.
But Fielder supplied some anyway on Tuesday night, hitting the three-run home run that turned the tide in a 5-1 All-Star Game victory for the National League.
Fielder thus became the logical and deserving choice for Most Valuable Player of the 2011 All-Star Game. This was simply an extension of the kind of work Fielder has been doing all season as the cleanup hitter for the Brewers.
"He was our cleanup hitter and he did what he's been doing all year," said NL manager Bruce Bochy of the defending World Series champion Giants.
The first baseman of the Brewers is having a huge regular season. Fielder is tied for second in the NL in home runs, tied for the lead in RBIs, second in on-base percentage, third in slugging percentage and second in OPS.
Fielder's work has been key in keeping the Brewers in the midst of the NL Central race. It will also, as he heads for free agency, act to assure Fielder a massive multiyear payday that will be his before the next season begins. But that will be then, and this is now.
This is a man fashioning an admirable career. The All-Star MVP Award is a nice suitable touch for the public recognition it will produce, but the way Fielder has performed for the Milwaukee franchise demonstrated the fundamental worth of his career long before Tuesday night in Arizona.
Fielder shows up for work. He has never played fewer than 157 games in a season. His effort is relentless. He runs out every ground ball. He is intensely admired by his Milwaukee teammates not only for his production, but for his effort.
"He's my teammate and my friend, so I'm a little biased," second baseman Rickie Weeks, a fellow All-Star starter, said Tuesday night. "But he's a great person, and a great player as well."
Fielder is having more fun than his exterior expressions might indicate. His intensity is so apparent that Fielder figures the one thing people might overlook about his game is the enjoyment he gets out of playing baseball.
"I'm having some fun out there," Fielder said. "I don't think people think that I'm having fun. I come home from a game and my wife says, 'Why are you so mad?' But I'm having tons of fun."
Beyond his playing traits, Fielder is indisputably quick witted. Monday morning in the media sessions for the NL All-Stars, Fielder was asked if he had a favorite in the Home Run Derby.
"Well ... me," Fielder said with a chuckle, the response coming off much more humorous than immodest.
Fielder was booed vociferously by the Chase Field crowd during the Derby and again early in the All-Star Game. As captain of the NL Derby squad, he had picked his teammate, Weeks, rather than Justin Upton of the D-backs.
Those boos were no longer in evidence in the fourth inning Tuesday night, when Fielder hit the three-run blast that turned a deficit into a 3-1 lead for the NL. That the homer came against C.J. Wilson of the Rangers, a very tough lefty, made the whole episode more impressive. Wilson had given up home runs to left-handed hitters just three times in their last 399 at-bats against him.
Fielder said that the booing bothered his two children much more than it bothered him.
"But we didn't dwell on it," Fielder said. "I mean, I probably would have booed myself, too, if I was an Arizona fan. So I didn't take it personal."
On the other hand, when Fielder was asked if given another chance to pick the NL Derby team, he would pick Upton, he responded with a smile and said, "Absolutely not."
Fielder enjoys being one of the game's most notable power hitters. He takes some of the hardest swings in baseball. In the parlance of the game, he does not get cheated.
"It's a lot of fun," he said. "You've seen my swing. I think I'm trying to swing easy, but it never looks easy. Sometimes when I look at it I say, 'That's ridiculous.' But I don't know how to do it any other way."
There is the distinct possibility that this will be Fielder's final season in Milwaukee, but he has done a remarkable job of putting that issue aside and focusing on the work at hand. When he was asked about a possible departure from the Brewers Tuesday night, he responded:
"Hopefully I don't have to think about that until after we hold up the World Series trophy."
It was the correct answer again from Fielder. He turned this All-Star Game around with one swing, the kind of thing he has done countless times on smaller stages. This performance made for a nice piece of public notice on a big stage, but it was not at all unusual for Prince Fielder.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.