EDITOR'S NOTE: If we have, in fact, seen the last of Prince Fielder as a Brewer, I want to do our best to give him a fitting sendoff here at BCB. As such, today we're starting Prince Week, a daily series of posts from special guests remembering Fielder's tenure in the organization.
Today we start at the beginning: Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Director of Media Relations and Radio Announcer Chris Mehring has a couple of stories from Fielder's brief time in the Midwest League. You can see more of Chris' work at Rattler Radio.
Look at Prince Fielder's entry in the Milwaukee Brewers Media Guide.
You will see that he was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers with the seventh pick of the first round in 2002. He was 18 years old at the time and signed quickly enough with the Brewers to begin his professional career in mid-June as a member of the Pioneer League's Ogden Raptors.
Fielder hit .390 with 10 homers and 40 RBI in his first 41 games with the Raptors. The Brewers sent him to the Midwest League in early August and made his Beloit Snappers debut on August 2. That debut was at Pohlman Field against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
The Media Guide will tell you that Prince Fielder homered in that debut. The Media Guide will not give you the context, signs, and portents of that home run. I get to do that because I was there.
Fielder was immediately placed in the cleanup spot for the Snappers. And why not? Here was lineup for the Snappers for their August 1 contest against the Rattlers.
Ralph Santana - 2B
Ozzie Chavez - SS
Jason Belcher - LF
Brad Nelson - 1B
Florian Villanueva - C
Tom Carrow - CF
Hector Garcia - RF
Paul Bell - DH
Elliott Ayala - 3B
Dane Artman - SP
This was the lineup that Fielder stepped into on August 2, 2002 for his first professional game in the state of Wisconsin.
Ralph Santana - 2B
Paul Bell - SS
Jason Belcher - LF
Prince Fielder - 1B
Florian Villanueva - 3B
Hector Garcia - CF
Elliott Ayala - DH
Jonah McClanahan - RF
Pedro Esparragoza - C
Mike Jones - SP
Ryan Ketchner was the starting pitcher for the Timber Rattlers on that night. Ketchner was a left-hander who threw hard, could mix in the offspeed, and had good control. (He probably still is since he spent the past year at AAA for the Salt Lake Bees.) Ketchner entered the game - his 26th appearance and seventh start of the year - in Beloit 2-2 with a save and a 2.60 ERA. Plus, in 69-1/3 innings, Ketchner had struck out 68 and walked 25.
Then, Fielder walked in his first Midwest League plate appearance. He worked the count to 3-2 and took ball four to draw a leadoff walk in the second inning.
He stepped to the plate again in the fourth and grounded out to third.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Timber Rattlers had a 2-0 lead. Fielder came to the plate with one out and showed what he was going to be.
Ketchner had allowed one hit through the first 6-1/3 innings. The only walk he issued was the one to Fielder in the second inning. Ketchner had struck out six.
In this at bat, Fielder again worked the count to 3-2. Ketchner went with an off speed pitch on the outside corner. Usually, there are about three things that happen here with any hitter - much less an 18-year old with six weeks of professional experience - will do in this situation: Roll over on it and ground out weakly to the second baseman; Swing and miss for strike three and look bad doing it; Take strike three and glare at the umpire.
Prince Fielder didn't do any of those things because Prince Fielder is not just any hitter, even as an 18-year old. Nine years ago he waited on that pitch and drove it over the left field wall for his first Midwest League home run.
There were a couple of stunning things about that home run. Ketchner allowed three home runs over 111 innings during the 2002 season. The homer by Fielder was the only one hit by a lefty off Ketchner that season. Now, 107 lefties faced over an entire season is a small sample size. But, still...My gosh. It was the first of many impressive performances by Fielder in this state.
Follow the jump for more!
How I saved his career
The Beloit Snappers were to open the 2003 season in Appleton against the Timber Rattlers. Ticket sales were up and there was a lot of excitement in the Fox Cities because this would be their first look at Fielder. It was 70 degrees two days before the start of the season. It was 60 degrees the day before the season started.
It started raining after midnight on the day that the season started. The season opening game was postponed after the Snappers arrived at the ballpark.
Later that evening, it began to snow. It wasn't that fun, soft Christmas Day snow, either. It was more of a sleet that turned the streets of Appleton into an ice rink.
Friday's game was postponed early in the day, but the Snappers were going to come over to the ballpark, change and go hit at Appleton West High School to get in at least a little work.
Their bus was traveling too fast on the driveway as they approached the stadium and the back wheels of the bus slid off to a ditch. The bus was stuck and was not going anywhere.
The Snappers hoofed it through the wind and snow from their bus to the clubhouse while people in the Rattlers front office called for a tow truck. It was going to be about 90 minutes before the tow truck could get there.
A plan was hatched. The remaining members of the Timber Rattlers front office would ferry the Snappers to Appleton West High School for practice and the bus would pick them up after practice.
We all made about two trips and I got the last two Beloit Snappers in the clubhouse. Prince Fielder was one of those two.
It was still snowing and the roads were still slippery as he got into the passenger seat of my small Saturn. He didn't say much, just a quick comment about the weather.
I wasn't in the mood for talking too much at the time. The future of the Brewers organization was in my car and the surface of the roads made it feel I should have been getting ready to take on Subzero in a game of Running Man.
Fortunately, there was no need for sudden stops or sharp turns or obstacle avoidance and I delivered Prince Fielder safely to practice and he said, "Thank you."
And THAT'S how I saved Prince Fielder's career before it ever started.*
Thanks again to Chris for taking the time to share this story. Be sure to head over to Rattler Radio for more of his work.