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Rob Smaal

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Fielder spreads good book of baseball in Tokyo

by Rob Smaal (Dec 23, 2010)

Milwaukee Brewers slugger Prince Fielder was in Tokyo last week, part of his mission as an MLB international ambassador that also took the burly first baseman to China.

While in Japan, Fielder tried his hand at taiko drumming with some Tokyo junior high school students and also visited a sumo stable. But this wasn't the 26-year-old Fielder's first trip to Japan. He lived in the Osaka area as a child while his dad Cecil Fielder spent a season with the Hanshin Tigers, for whom he smacked 38 homers in 1989.

Prince Fielder, who has spent his entire six-year MLB career with the Brewers, has averaged nearly 40 home runs a season in the bigs and boasts a career .535 slugging percentage. A free agent after the 2011 season, Fielder will be in line for one of the multi-year mega-contracts being handed out these days.

The IHT/ Asahi recently spent some time with Prince while he was in Tokyo, discussing everything from the Great Wall of China, to his numerous tattoos, to his desire to follow in his father's footsteps and maybe play ball in Japan one day.

* * *

Question. What are your recollections of the time you spent in Japan as a kid when your dad played for Hanshin?

Answer. I had a lot of fun, especially going to my dad's games. Watching him play back home in America was a lot different because the fans here are just non-stop the whole game with those thundersticks, you got guys blowing horns, it was unbelievable for me as a kid. Not to mention getting chicken wings at a baseball game, that blew my mind. I was excited, like 'Wow, forget hot dogs, they got chicken wings.' It was just a lot different than what I was accustomed to at the time.

* * *

Q: From what you've seen on this trip, how has Japan changed over the years?

A: As a kid, I just went from where we lived to the field, wherever my parents went. We didn't go into the city much. Seeing all the buildings here in Tokyo is cool. I don't really remember going sight-seeing that much (as a kid) so coming here now is good. I actually get to see what else is here besides baseball.

* * *

Q: What was it like being in China?

A: That was awesome as well. We saw the Great Wall, that was really cool. It was kind of overwhelming seeing how big it was, how it just kept going, over mountains, hundreds of miles away.

* * *

Q: Did you get the sense that the Chinese are getting into baseball at all?

A: There was definitely an interest. Kids seemed very interested and they seemed like they really want to bring baseball there and make it a lot bigger than it is. I guess they see how it's a good sport and they also want to have some kid one day from China going to the big leagues. I think they're very excited and enthusiastic about it and hopefully one day that will happen.

* * *

Q: How did you become an MLB ambassador?

A: I was presented with the opportunity and said yes. They (MLB) asked me if I wanted to do it and I was willing to do it, so here I am.

* * *

Q: You're not built like a typical baseball player at 180 cm and 122 kg. Did you play much football growing up as a kid?

A: No. They always wanted me to, but I didn't like the positions they were going to put me at, so I didn't play. I didn't want to play center, just didn't want to do that, so I stuck with basketball and baseball.

* * *

Q: For a big man, you have some good wheels. How many inside-the-park home runs have you had in your MLB career?

A: I'm quick, I can get from A to B pretty quick. But as far as being a speedster, I'm not. I've had two (inside-the-park HRs). A couple of people passed out in the middle of them, so that's how I was able to score.

* * *

Q: What's the background on your name? Prince is not too common.

A: I have four names--Prince Semien Grant Fielder. Prince, I heard it was from my great uncle. His name was Prince, and my mom liked Prince (the singer) at the time, so it was a perfect match.

* * *

Q: Did you get teased as a kid?

A: Oh yeah, and the funny part is that I still hear the same jokes, which gets kind of tired. "Princess," oh yeah, that's cute. When I would come up to bat, especially in the minor leagues, they used to play "Purple Rain" a lot. I've heard it all. When someone comes up with a good one, usually I'll give them credit. When it's dumb, I just tell them that's dumb.

* * *

Q: Would you ever consider playing baseball in Japan one day, like your dad did?

A: Oh yeah, definitely. Later in my career, when my kids are much older, I'm a little older, and we wanted to experience (life) out here, and kind of show my kids a different culture. But that's a while (down the road). Plus, it would have to be OK with my wife by that time too, because she calls the shots. (This brings laughter from Prince's wife, Chantel, who is sitting nearby.)

* * *

Q: Your first career MLB hit was off a Japanese pitcher. Do you remember that?

A: Yeah, it was off Hideo Nomo. It was cool because I watched him as I was growing up and my dad always talked about how he was a tough pitcher when the major leaguers would come over and tour Japan.

He was always saying that he was a good pitcher. Seeing him in the big leagues, it was my first time facing him, so it was really cool. For me to get my first career hit off him was kind of special because he was such a great pitcher.

* * *

Q: You have a lot of tattoos, including what looks like some kanji on your neck. Tell us about your body ink.

A: That's Korean (on my neck). I just picked it because I liked the way the characters looked. I think I have a Chinese one as well. I just picked this one because I liked the look of it. It means Prince.

* * *

Q: There's an urban legend going around that you hit a ball out of the park at Tiger Stadium in Detroit as a kid. Is it true?

A: That's true. I hit a home run in batting practice. I think I had just turned 12 ... I was pretty big.

* * *

Q: At the recent MLB winter meetings, your name came up in trade talks a few times. Looking at some of the crazy contracts that have been handed out lately, you must be licking your chops waiting for next year when you become a free agent.

A: I'm waiting for next year as far as starting the 2011 season, and getting through that, and like you said, the contracts are great.

I'm very happy for the players because you always want people in your sport to get compensated for their skills, and I'm just happy for them.

When that time comes for me, I'll talk to (agent) Scott (Boras) and go over that. Right now I'm just trying to make sure I take care of my job first, let Scott handle his, and we'll come together when that time comes.

* * *

Q: You've spent your entire MLB career in Milwaukee with a so-called "small-market" team. Would you like to play on a bigger stage one day?

A: No, I want to be right where I'm at right now, in Milwaukee.


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