Prince Fielder leans on family as he exits

ByJean-Jacques Taylor ESPN logo
Thursday, August 11, 2016

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 where too many kids grow up either not knowing their father or not having a relationship with him, Prince Fielder's kids are the epicenter of his life.

During his three injury-plagued years with the Texas Rangers, they spent a lot of days hanging around the RaPrngers' clubhouse, shagging fly balls or playing baseball with the sons of Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo before batting practice began.

Maybe it's because Fielder knew how much fun he had hanging around various clubhouses as a kid 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 type of dysfunction.

Fielder is reportedly no longer estranged from his father. What's clear is Fielder's 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 homeys.

"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 just like it was in 2014, his first year with the Rangers. That year, he played just 42 games before requiring surgery. After hitting .305 last season with 23 homers and 98 RBI, 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 against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on July 18.

"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 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."

So Fielder returned home to have what he figured would be one of the most difficult conversations of his life: Telling his boys that his 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 alright, 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, but never mentioned his 319 homers, ironically the same number his father hit. He didn't talk about his six All-Star game appearances or 1,028 RBI or his .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. All he really focused on was 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 derbies. 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 cause 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 he 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 'cause 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 kinda 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 news conference as his son used his shirt to wipe away his tears.

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