BY MICK TIDROW | BALL STATE SPORTS LINK
Flashy home runs and the smile that lit on Prince Fielder’s face at all times on the baseball field are now in the past.
Fielder is just 32 years old, and has been forced to retire due to a second spinal fusion surgery on his neck.
“The doctors told me since I had two spinal fusions, I can’t play Major League Baseball anymore,” said an emotional Fielder during his press conference. “So I want to just thank my teammates and the coaching staff. I’m going to really miss those guys. They’re a lot a fun. I’ve been in a big league clubhouse since I was their age.”
The Rangers designated hitter and first baseman is still wearing a large neck brace. Before he had packed his bags to Texas from Detroit and Milwaukee, he had missed one game in the previous five seasons.
In 2014, he had his first neck surgery, halting him after 42 games. Last season, he bounced back to dominant form, blasting 23 homers and driving in 98 runs. Not to mention he hit .305 in helping the Rangers win the AL West.
He even finished with the exact same number of long balls as his father, Cecil, with 319 (how eerie is that).
For Ranger fans, Wednesday afternoon marked the end to a career marked by a hefty contract, but it was a career taken too soon nonetheless.
Fielder still has four years and $96 million standing on the nine-year, $214 million deal he signed with Detroit in 2012 before he was dealt to Texas.
Of the millions left on the table for Texas to pay Fielder, an insurance policy is expected to pick up half of the last $72 million. The Tigers still have to pay $24 million.
But throw the money aside, toss away the contract talk and let us reflect on the career of one of the best power hitters in our generation.
Over his 12 year career, people stopped what they were doing to witness the all-out swing of Fielder.
He was a bonafide power hitter who stayed healthy through the first nine years of his career.
In eight of those seasons, he played at least 157 games, four times playing in every single game. He put together six straight 30 home runs seasons, once eclipsing the 50 mark.
We’re seeing farewell tours all across the game this season with David Ortiz and even Mark Teixeira. They have the opportunity to end their careers when they so choose.
Fielder does not.
His hand was forced when doctors said playing baseball is an act Fielder can no longer do.
Texas general manager Jon Daniels said it best.
“I really wish our fans had been able to see Prince at his best. For about 10 years, he was one of the elite power hitters and baseball players in the game.”
We saw him near his best, but never at the top. There will always be the “what if” statements pointed at Fielder when reflecting on how many homers he could have continued to pile up in the years to come.
Baseball is an unfair game, and it claimed the career of one of the most exciting players to watch.
Prince, thank you for the memories and the countless home run trots. Thank you for playing the game the right way and giving your all every day. The game is going to miss you.