All this improvement apparently earned the Tigers the luxury of having a seven-year-old mascot, a traveling companion to the man his teammates call Big Daddy. Prince has gone back to school near the Fielders' home base in Arlington. Texas, but for most of the summer he was as much a part of the clubhouse as chewing tobacco and sporting-goods salesmen. "You don't see this often," says Incaviglia, a Detroit outfielder and occasional designated hitter, and Fielder's neighbor and golfing buddy back in Texas. "But it's kind of nice, don't you think?"
Phillips wonders. "I don't know," he says. "I've got bruises all over my body since he began making trips with us."
But whatever's good for Fielder is thought to be good for the Tigers. And Fielder has decided that if his family can't quite be first in his life—in baseball, how could it be?—it won't be far behind. So it was Fielder and Fielder this summer, with Phillips and others thrown into the mix. "School starts soon," Phillips reminded Prince one day, delivering a hook to the kid's midsection. "Real soon."
No matter. School seemed a long way off as father and son traveled together. On the road, Big Daddy and Prince arose about 10:30 or 11:00 a.m., ate breakfast and watched cartoons. "Starting about 12, he'd ask when we're leaving for the ballpark," says Fielder. Once there, about 3 p.m., Dad threw him some batting practice. And the kid can hit.
Then there would be some catch or the aforementioned wrestling. Prince would stay in the clubhouse to watch the game on television, after which he and his dad would return to the hotel and get ready for another day. And there's your father-and-son baseball season. "Sometimes you come home from a road trip," says Fielder, "and the kid's done grown. Just think of that lost time."
Fielder has lost enough time in his 28-year-old life that he should not have to suffer more. Now that he has had two sensational seasons in a row—"I already consider this a season," says Anderson, adding, "Anything after 30 home runs and 100 RBIs is a bonus"—it's no longer fair to ask if he's genuine. Fielder is not on pace to hit 50 home runs again (back-to-back 50-homer seasons were last accomplished by Babe Ruth in 1927 and '28), but in other ways he has improved. He's a much better two-strike hitter and has cut down on his strikeouts. He isn't what you call a contact hitter, but he's not an all-or-nothing swinger like teammate Rob Deer, either. The only area in which Fielder has failed to improve is his baserunning. Stolen bases? Stuck on zero.
The question in Fielder's career is not where he's going but where he has been. His has been greatness deferred, all right, but why? It's not easy to assign blame. Surely the Jays wish he were hitting home runs for them now, but not even Fielder can find fault with their decision to keep him on the bench. Going up and down in the Toronto organization, he hadn't done anything to assure himself of immortality, or even of a starting job. "It was between me and Freddie McGriff," he says. "And they chose Freddie. That was fair."
Fielder's size may have weighed in the decision. Jimy Williams, the Blue Jay manager at the time, saw him as something of a project, and he used to make him run with the pitchers. This is an old routine with Fielder, some well-meaning coach trying to turn him into the body beautiful. His coach at UNLV had the same notion; it took him two weeks to get Fielder to finish two miles in 13:30.
Anyway, the evidence suggests that Fielder is genetically predisposed to a certain mass. "You should see his four uncles," says his mother, Tina. They each weigh in well over 200 pounds. "I'm afraid we're a big family."
So Toronto sold Fielder to the Hanshin Tigers. Japan is usually kind of a graveyard for U.S. ballplayers, somewhere to make a buck before the career is finally over. And Fielder did make a buck. With incentives, he pulled down $1.05 million in his season there, a nice improvement over the $125,000 he had made the year before with the Blue Jays. In every way but pound-for-pound, he was worth the money. In only 384 at bats for Hanshin, Fielder hit 38 homers.