ARLINGTON, Texas — When Prince Fielder announced Wednesday that a second spinal fusion surgery had ended his career, his wife, Chanel, sat in a section reserved for players, front office and family.
Fielder’s sons — 11-year-old Jadyn and 10-year-old Haven — sat with their dad.
No one should have been surprised. In a country in which too many kids grow up either not knowing their fathers or not having relationships with them, Prince Fielder’s kids are the epicenter of his life.
During his three injury-plagued years with the Texas Rangers, the Fielder boys spent a lot of days hanging around the Rangers’ clubhouse, shagging fly balls or playing baseball with the sons of Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo before batting practice.
Maybe it’s because Fielder knew how much fun he had as a kid hanging around clubhouses with his father, former slugger Cecil Fielder, and he wanted them to experience it. Perhaps it’s because Fielder had a strained relationship with his father for several years, and he wanted to ensure his family never experienced that.
Fielder is reportedly no longer estranged from his father. It’s clear his bond with his sons is strong.
“I want to thank my boys,” Fielder said. “No matter what, I was the best to them, and that always made me feel good. These are my two homies.
“My wife, she has really helped me a lot. It has been a struggle this year, and then to hear this news, for her to stay positive — no matter what — she wouldn’t let me get down on myself at the house. She wouldn’t let me mope. She would never let me feel any less about myself than I should.”
This season has been a struggle for Fielder, as was 2014, his first year with the Rangers. That year, he played just 42 games before he needed surgery. After he hit .305 last season with 23 homers and 98 RBIs, Fielder never found a rhythm this season. He was hitting less than .200 in June. Often, he was asked about his health.
Fielder requested a meeting with Dr. Robert Watkins after an 0-for-4 performance July 18 against the Los Angeles Angels.
“Finally, in Anaheim, he got a few pitches to hit, and he couldn’t deliver,” said Scott Boras, Fielder’s agent. “He said something’s going on. We expected some DL time but not this.”
Watkins’ examination revealed that Fielder had significant issues.
“I didn’t know they were symptoms,” Fielder said. “You got a tight shoulder, they say loosen up your biceps. Every now and then, I’d go to do something, and I’d feel weird.
“I can’t explain it. When I did the test at the doctor’s office, he asked me to walk a straight line, and I couldn’t do it. I did it, but it was too much brain involved to walk a straight line.”
At the examination’s conclusion, Dr. Watkins told Fielder his career was over.
“I think you need surgery, and I wouldn’t advise you to play again,” he told Fielder. “I wouldn’t let you play again.”
Fielder returned home to have what he figured would be one of the most difficult conversations of his life: telling his boys that his baseball career was over.
Instead, they buoyed his spirits.
“I came home and told them what the doctor said, and they never allowed me to feel bad. They said, ‘It’s all right, Dad,'” Fielder said. “They didn’t even break stride from video games. I’m so proud of them for being that strong for me at that time.”
Fielder spoke for about 20 minutes Wednesday. He never mentioned his 319 home runs — the same number his father hit. He didn’t talk about his six All-Star game appearances or 1,028 RBIs or .887 career OPS. He didn’t talk about winning the Home Run Derby as a Brewer in 2009 in St. Louis or in 2012 in Kansas City as a Tiger. He focused on the importance of having his family with him for virtually every important moment on the baseball diamond.
“All the All-Star Games with them, the Home Run Derbys. Just being able to have my wife and the kids on the field with me for the playoffs, all the celebration stuff, it happened with me,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing.
“They never missed a single great moment I had because they were always there. My wife passed out Capri Suns, and my kids passed out the oranges. It was team Fielder. They never missed anything I did that I enjoyed.”
As his dad spoke, Haven wiped away a tear.
“When the game is taken away from you like that, it’s not easy to handle,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “It’s easier when you say, ‘I’ve had enough. I’m going to go home and be with my family.’ When you go home because you can’t do it anymore, it’s different, but he’s not dead. He can enjoy his family and look forward to the next chapter.”
All of Fielder’s teammates attended his announcement, as did team owner Ray Davis. Fielder and Beltre have controlled the Rangers’ clubhouse so manager Jeff Banister didn’t have to do it.
Fielder was the consummate professional, a player respected by youngsters and veterans. Now, it’s over after 12 seasons, five trips to the playoffs, a career batting average of .283 and a lifetime of memories that will never fade.
“I’m going to miss my teammates and my kids getting to come to the field with me. All that stuff I got to enjoy,” Fielder said. “It kind of sucks because it feels like it was taken away from me a little too early. I can deal with it, but it’s hard for me to deal with things that hurt my kids.”
Then Fielder stood up, wrapped his arm around Jadyn’s shoulder and walked out of the room as his son used his shirt to wipe away his tears.