Prince reports to camp trimmer, happier
New deal in hand, Brewers slugger eager to prove his worth
PHOENIX -- These days, the only thing big about Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder is his new contract.A trimmer Fielder, who inked a two-year, $18 million extension last month, concedes that he "clearly" packed on some extra pounds last year. He vowed to keep them off in 2009.
"Unfortunately, I can get huge," Fielder said, cracking one of his big smiles. "I have to keep it in check."Brewers officials have made it clear to Fielder that he needs to manage his weight, and Fielder said he understands, especially given a new deal that will pay $6.5 million this season -- about 10 times his 2008 salary -- and $11.5 million next year. It's an investment, Fielder said, and he intends to do his part to make sure it pays dividends. Just don't ask how much weight Fielder has lost. "I don't like scales," Fielder said, chuckling. "Scales are not cool." Fielder has been laughing a lot this spring. That's a bit of a change from this time last year, when the Brewers and Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, were haggling over his contract. Fielder was not yet eligible for arbitration and felt he was being shortchanged by the team's system that compensates non-arbitration-eligible players based on statistical achievements and awards. Fielder expressed his displeasure when the team renewed his contract for $670,000. The discord prompted some to speculate that Fielder's first year of arbitration eligibility could get ugly. Instead, Fielder and the Brewers agreed to an extension last month that allows both sides to skip the sticky process entirely next year. He'll have one more year of arbitration in 2011 before hitting free agency for the first time. "I'm just happy, man," Fielder said after a workout this week. "The Brewers took care of me, and that feels good." Money can't buy happiness, but for Fielder, his wife, Chanel, and their two sons, it hasn't hurt. "Any time you get that kind of economic security for your family, that's got to make you feel good," said Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio, who now has his eyes on extensions for some other young Brewers. "And by the way, that's just the start for Prince Fielder." The big payday represented another step in the maturity of one of baseball's best young sluggers. Fielder, Milwaukee's first-round Draft pick in 2002, grew up around the game with his dad, former All-Star Cecil Fielder, but their relationship soured a few years ago when Cecil's financial problems started catching up with his son, who was at the time trying to find his way in Class A. Kids came next for Fielder, who was 20 years old when Chanel gave birth to Jadyn. Another son, Haven, was born two years later. Prince Fielder said he remains estranged from his dad, but might try to rekindle the relationship when he's finished playing baseball. For now, he's happy. "I'm not going to try to deal with that now, because I don't want my feelings hurt," Fielder said. "I'm not saying I couldn't be happy if we did [try to talk], but I just want to focus on baseball." To that end, Fielder is aiming for a more steady season then his roller-coaster 2008. Fielder, coming off a year in which he surpassed Willie Mays as the youngest player to hit 50 home runs, didn't hit his first until April 17, when he yanked a 10th-inning game-winner in St. Louis. It came in Fielder's 54th at-bat, which actually put him right on pace with 2007, when he didn't hit his second home run until April 20. Still, Milwaukee was in a panic about its slumping slugger, and fans and sportswriters alike wondered aloud whether Fielder's new vegetarian diet was sapping his strength. Fielder, who was smirking when he told reporters this week that he's still a vegetarian, said the diet had nothing to do with his homer drought. "I was trying to hit 50 in the first month, or hit 50 in Spring Training," Fielder said. "I was trying to do too much, man, instead of just playing the game and having fun." Fielder was having a lot more fun by July, when Milwaukee pulled off a blockbuster trade for CC Sabathia. Fielder and Sabathia formed an instant bond, and together led the club to its first postseason appearance in 26 years, with Sabathia going 11-2 in his 17 Brewers starts and Fielder catching fire in September, when he batted .316 with six home runs and 21 RBIs. Fielder discovered a paradox along the way -- the deeper the Brewers got into their playoff push, the less pressure he felt as an individual. "It's hard to explain," Fielder said. "It was just all about the team then. When you just want to win, all of the other stuff just takes care of itself." And that's just what happened. Fielder didn't match his lofty 2007. But he did end the regular season with 34 homers and 102 RBIs, second on the team in both categories to left fielder Ryan Braun. The team accomplishments, Fielder said, were more important. "It wasn't about me," Fielder said. "We were able to go to the playoffs, and that's something Milwaukee hasn't had. I know we were ecstatic, but to see how the fans were, that was kind of overwhelming. In reality, we're only playing baseball, but we made people's lives better for a split-second, I guess." Fielder wants bigger things in the future. That means he can't sit on that huge contract. "You guys know me, I'm my worst critic," Fielder said. "Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy with what I've done, but I need to keep working. There's a lot of things I need to get better at, defensively and everything. You never want to stop working."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.