MILWAUKEE (AP) — Prince Fielder will not change his style of play. Don’t expect his teammates to temper their enthusiasm, either.
The Milwaukee Brewers, two years removed from a National League wild card berth that snapped a 26-year postseason drought, think they will be playing meaningful baseball in September again and continue to pester its big brother rivals in the NL Central in the process.
If that comes with some passion, so be it.
“You want me not to show emotion or whatever, but can I not show emotion and not run the balls out and what does that mean? That means I’m respecting the game? No,” Fielder said. “Judge me on how I go about the game, not my emotions or whatever, not the passion I have. That’s just me.”
The starting pitching was last year’s downfall in an 80-82 season with the rotation posting the highest ERA in the majors at 5.37. General manager Doug Melvin has signed left-handers Randy Wolf ($29.75 million, three years) and Doug Davis ($5.25 million, one year) to bolster that area.
He also kept the bullpen intact with Trevor Hoffman closing ($8 million, one year) and added LaTroy Hawkins ($7.5 million, two years).
“There’s a lot of things that are balanced and good about the lineup,” Wolf said. “If we just do pretty close to our jobs, it’s a lot more wins than 80.”
The biggest addition may be off the field with new pitching coach Rick Peterson, whose drills include having pitchers throwing with their eyes closed to better understand balance. His work has brought confidence to some of the staff if nothing else.
But for all the renewed optimism heading into this season, next year looms even larger and could pose a distraction. Fielder will be eligible for his third and final year of salary arbitration and could be a free agent after the 2011 season.
With Joe Mauer signing a $184 million, eight-year contract with the Twins, Fielder is almost certainly one of the next players in line to receive a hefty sum.
“I’m keeping quiet now. If people want to know about my contract or whatever, they can call (agent) Scott (Boras),” Fielder said. “I’m done talking about it. I’m here for two more years anyway, if I’m not here, that’s not my fault. If anybody has a question, they can talk to Scott. But I am here for two years.”
Fielder’s teammates talk in equal parts reverence and realization that he is the key to their success. With Ryan Braun hitting in front of Fielder, the Brewers have one of the most potent combination of hitters in baseball.
“As long as we have Prince, we’re going to be a team to watch out for,” right fielder Corey Hart said. “Hopefully they can lock him up, but while you have him, you look at that as we have two of the best guys, so we’re pretty dangerous.”
Fielder laughs at the notion, saying he relies on Braun as much as his teammates rely on him. But Fielder never wants to leave the field. He has waved off his manager in spring training to stay in meaningless games and he says he can’t let his teammates down.
Manager Ken Macha said as long as Fielder is positive, he won’t step in.
“I don’t want to curb his strong desire to do what he needs to do just so the adrenaline is going in the right direction,” Macha said. “Coming into the dugout, breaking things up, he doesn’t do that at all.
“He keeps it inside, so your focus is on what you want to do as compared to what you do. I think it’s hard to play the game, period. But when you’re not in control of your emotions, you really have a difficult time.”
For all of Fielder’s fiery emotions, he can control himself much better than his first years in the league.
Last season, Fielder started all 162 games and played but four innings. His line was MVP worthy, hitting .299 with 46 homers and 141 RBIs. To the Brewers, no single player is more valuable to his team.
“I’m a little prejudiced, I look at it this way, those other guys that were voted ahead of him in MVP, it would’ve been real easy to make a case for Prince had we won five or six more games,” Macha said. “He would’ve been voted ahead of those guys.”
Fielder will play every day no matter what, like his father, 13-year veteran Cecil Fielder, always wanted to do.
“I don’t like coming out. If I can walk, if I can hold a bat I want to play. I think that’s just how, growing up, my dad was similar to that,” he said. “So I think just by watching him and realizing the opportunity that I have to be able to play every day at the level that I can I don’t want to take it for granted. If I can play, I want to always be out there.
“This doesn’t last for ever.”