In short time, Fuld a legend
Size no matter to Rays outfielder as he seizes opportunity
The familiar maxim, bestowed upon us by the newspaper reporter in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," is as follows: When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.With more than 200 million people getting their "facts" from Twitter these days, we might as well heed that advice. So here goes: Sam Fuld once hit a grand slam off the ceremonial first pitch. When Blue Oyster Cult recorded "Don't Fear the Reaper," the producer said he wanted "more Sam Fuld." Superman wears Sam Fuld pajamas to bed. Seventy-five percent of the world is covered by water; the other 25 percent is covered by Sam Fuld. The Tampa Bay Rays have renamed their home stadium Tropicana Fuld. Sam Fuld has only been thrown out at home once. By Sam Fuld. And so on, and so on. But as much as the "Legend of Sam Fuld" is an entertaining Twitter trend, the real story behind Fuld's rise to fame with the Rays is captivating of its own accord. After all, you won't find any other 5-foot-9 (he's listed in the media guide at 5-foot-10, so it's safe to take at least an inch off that), New Hampshire-born, Jewish, diabetic outfielders in the Baseball Encyclopedia. And you'd be equally hard-pressed to find anybody who predicted the immediate impact Fuld has had since Manny Ramirez went abruptly into that good night. Fuld is batting .346 with a homer, six doubles, two triples, eight RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 20 games. Combine those numbers with his defensive dexterity, which manager Joe Maddon said is right in line with what his club used to receive from Carl Crawford, and you see the spark Fuld has provided for a Rays team that has rebounded from a 1-8 start to win 10 of its past 13 games. All this has served to make Fuld an instant, albeit unlikely, celebrity. That status was created the night of April 11, when Fuld turned Fenway Park into his personal playground with a 4-for-6 performance -- a would-be cycle had he not stretched the base hit in his last at-bat into a double. It is augmented with each eye-catching catch and each tall-tale tweet, and it has been cemented by the May 29 promotion the Rays have lined up. Rather than giving out a Ramirez bobblehead doll, they'll be handing out "Super Sam" capes to the kids. The 29-year-old Fuld, a Stanford-educated math whiz who once interned at Chicago-based STATS LLC, is too in tune with the game's numerical rhythms to think he can keep up his torrid pace. Even his starting opportunity might be fleeting, given that top prospect Desmond Jennings is looming in Triple-A. Yet that hasn't kept Fuld from enjoying the ride. "It's a great opportunity," Fuld said, "and an unexpected one. But I've been around the game enough to know these sorts of things happen. It can work for you and against you. When you get these chances, you've got to try to make the most of them and try not to get too caught up in it all." No matter how "The Legend of Sam Fuld" evolves in the coming months, for the son of Amanda Merrill, New Hampshire state senator, and Kenneth Fuld, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of New Hampshire, to even be in the big leagues is a testament to his determination and doggedness.
Fuld, one of only 37 New Hampshire natives to reach the Majors in the modern era, might appear more jockey than jock. But he is as competitive as he is diminutive, and that's how he got here. "He's obviously of small stature, and he's had to kind of overcompensate for that," Ken Fuld said. "So he plays hard. That's just something I always emphasized, and that was the message of his coaches as well. He's a good listener. He always listens to his coaches." Fuld also has to listen to his body. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 10, he injects himself with insulin shots twice a day -- sometimes during a game -- to keep his blood-sugar level at a normal range. It's a supreme challenge for a professional athlete, but Fuld never complains about his condition. His father remembers a time when Sam, then in high school, was supposed to participate in a workout for a Cleveland Indians scout at a site in Massachusetts. "His blood-sugar level was so high, he could barely stand," Ken said. "We were racing around to find a drug store to find insulin. It was a disaster." By the time Sam made it back to the field, the scout was gone. The workout was over. It would have been enough to crush the spirits of most kids with big league dreams. "But Sam was just, 'Oh well,'" Ken recalled. "He said, 'There will be another time.' He dealt with it much better than I would have." Said Sam: "That was one of the few instances where [diabetes] actually affected me on the field. I really do pride myself on making sure it doesn't affect me, both in the moment and down the road." Fuld has always been a bit of a forward thinker.
|"At each stage of his career, I kept saying to myself, 'You know what? He can play with these guys.'"|
-- Ken Fuld,|
Sam Fuld's father
The Cubs liked Fuld enough to draft him twice, in the 24th round after his junior year and in the 10th round after his senior season. In 2005, Fuld began a Minor League career that was impressive, if not awe-inspiring. He did have a transcendent showing in the 2007 Arizona Fall League season, earning MVP honors and the Dernell Stenson Award for Leadership, the only player to capture both trophies. "He's a blood-and-guts guy," said the Cubs' farm director, Oneri Fleita. "He gives every ounce of effort, and he'll always be the dirtiest guy on the field. The guy is first class." Cubs fans saw that on Sept. 22, 2007, when Fuld, who had made his big league debut earlier in the month, made an incredible wall-crashing catch followed by a perfect one-hop strike to second base for a double play. That earned him instant acclaim, as Wrigley Field erupted in a standing ovation for the rookie. "Incredible," Fuld said of that moment. "I still hadn't even gotten an at-bat at that point. It was nice to contribute, a huge relief. I was just a scared rookie and that's a pretty heavy environment, so it was a huge weight off my shoulders to do something good and be recognized for it." Alas, the Cubs never gave Fuld a consistent opportunity to play in the Majors. He spent the entire second half of 2009 with them and demonstrated his speed, on-base and defensive abilities in a part-time role, but was relegated to Triple-A for most of the following year. Last winter, Fuld was out of Minor League options, so the Cubs made him an unheralded part of the package of prospects they shipped to the Rays for Matt Garza. And when Ramirez vanished after another failed drug test, Fuld was suddenly a starter. And then, just as suddenly, a star. "Everything has happened so quickly," Fuld said. "It's really been amazing." This can't last much longer. Can it? The pixie dust will disappear. Won't it? Perhaps. But to say for certain would be selling "The Legend of Sam Fuld" short. And for now, it's so much more fun to print the legend.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.