One of my biggest regrets in switching from my old script, “First Kiss” is losing the nostalgic atmosphere I was trying to create. I don't think I was doing a good job of it but the story was supposed to be set in the longlongago of the Detroit suburbs of the 1990s. That was the year the Soviet Union started to collapse, that Germany was reunified, that the city rioted because the Pistons won the championship. But it was also the year that Cecil Fielder hit 50 home runs. It doesn't sound like a big accomplishment now. Not when you have juiced up players like Bonds and Sosa and McGuire blasting past Ruth (Well, Maris) and Aaron. And not a year goes by when someone doesn't join the club. But, at the time it was an amazing feat. No one had hit over 50 homers since the late 70s (George Foster who, himself was the first person to do it in over 12 years.). Back then, 50 home runs was a monumental feat. And Detroit hadn't seen anything like it since Greenberg back in the 30s.
With the recent resurgence of Detroit baseball, it's easy to overlook the accomplishment, too. When people say the Tigers were dead for 10~15 years, it's easy to think that means they hadn't done anything since the Roar of 84. But by the time '90 rolled around, the glory from that era was fading like the heroes of the past, like Gibson. Players like Trammel and Whitaker were still on the roster but they were in the twilight of their careers and would retire before too long. The teams of the early 90s revitalized the sport for a few brief, memorable summers before the Tigers began their long slide past mediocrity into the cellar of the past few years. And Fielder seemed to be the perfect player to do it. He'd been a bust with Toronto just a few years earlier and had been playing in Japan the year before (The movie Mr. Baseball is loosely based on his story. Made, of course, by big time Tigers fan Tom Selleck.) where the Wild Bear was a huge splash. But when the Tigers picked him up, they weren't expecting much. Just a bargain basement deal on a decent hitter to add to their lineup. And this retread, this guy who'd bounced around the league and been disappointed and snubbed just exploded. For a suffering city like Detroit, for a city that longed to get back to former successes and glories, he became an instant favorite. The fans held their breath. We were sure this was a player on the verge of greatness.
Not sure I'd pay $3 plus shipping for the newspaper on the day he broke past 50 in Yankee Stadium but, you know, someone probably will and that's just how big Fielder was at the time.
It wasn't to be, though, for very long as he never got back the magic of that first season just like the Tigers could never quite get over that hump and become contenders. Fielder was eventually traded to the Yankees – where he got a well-deserved ring – and a few others before leaving the league. He's had some domestic and legal problems since, including being estranged from his son.
Speaking of his son, for a time when he first played for those Tigers, Cecil Fielder actually lived in my neighborhood. He was only making something like a million dollars or two a season which is a lot but, you know, not that much. So he got a house in the quiet, exclusive but affordable suburb of Grosse Pointe, where we were living at the time, just a few blocks down from my street. His son, Prince, was the same age as one of my brothers. They even played together in the Woods-Shores Little League. My brother was a huge baseball fan at the time, and dreamed of nothing more than becoming a professional pitcher. He was pretty good but, even back then, it was apparent that Prince Fielder was on another level.
So, I note with some interest that the Milwaukee Brewers are coming to town to play the Tigers, tonight. See, my brother outgrew his MLB dreams, eventually, although he did play for some state and regional championships along the way leading to a few memorable trips for me. But Prince Fielder didn't. He's a first baseman for the Brewers now and, by all accounts, a good one. If for no reason other than my own fading memories of my youth, I think I'd like to see him play. I mean, I still remember the excitement when he hit that ball out of Tiger Stadium. (Check out this article, too, which features quotes from some of Prince Fielder's little league teammates. My brother's not in there but some of his old school friends are.) The buzz in the schoolyard. The excitement in my brother's voice. See, he's on a pace to hit over 50 home runs this year, too. And while that might not seem like an accomplishment by today's standards, I think I'd like to see a Fielder take the plate and swing for the fences again.