Prince Fielder has good memories of Chase Field in Arizona. His three-run homer in the 2011 All-Star game was the deciding hit in the National League’s victory.
Although Diamondbacks fans likely were cheering him for that homer, they weren’t cheering him the night before when, as captain of the NL Home Run Derby team, he “snubbed” Diamondbacks slugger Justin Upton in favor of then Milwaukee Brewers teammate Rickie Weeks, the Godfather of Fielders’ kids.
Fielder and Weeks were both booed by Diamondbacks fans then and a week later in a regular-season game.
Four years later, Fielder, a two-time Home Run Derby champion, is a different hitter. And if there was any lingering animosity toward him among Diamondbacks fans, it didn’t show Tuesday night.
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Even when his two-run homer put an exclamation mark on a four-run eighth for the Rangers, giving them a 7-1 win, there was nary a boo among those in attendance at Chase Field. Maybe it caught them by surprise. It was Fielder’s first homer of the season and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
It was his first home run since May 8, and his first homer on the road since Sept. 10, 2013.
Before the game, Rangers manager Jeff Banister urged patience with Fielder’s power. After all, Banister reasoned, the power would eventually return as well as Fielder has been seeing the ball.
And he didn’t take long to make Banister’s point.
In his first at-bat, he belted a 400-foot, ground-rule double to left-center to drive in Leonys Martin.
Martin’s two-run single in the ninth made it 7-1.
Fielder may no longer be pounding homers with regularity — at least in the first two weeks of the season — but it’s not because he’s not seeing the ball. He’s seeing it quite well, increasing his batting average to .393 with his double and homer, his fourth and fifth extra-base hits. His three RBIs Tuesday were half his total before the game.
Fielder wasn’t concerned with the lack of power last week in Arlington, and so far neither is Banister.
“We think of this guy being a power hitter and that’s what he is. He will be a power guy again and he’s still a power guy,” Banister said before Tuesday’s game. “Right now, it’s the grass roots of hitting for him and how they’re pitching him.”
So far, Fielder and the club appear content without the power. So when does it become a problem? Especially if he continues to hit at an exceptional rate?
“He got a couple pitches in the last series he just missed. I feel confident the power is going to show up,” Banister said. “He’s taken what pitches he has been given to hit and driven them through the shift, often to left field.”
Could Fielder just be a different kind of hitter these days, at age 30, with neck surgery a year ago?
“[He went] nine and a half months without playing the game of baseball, and now you’re playing at the major league level,” Banister said. “Some of these things Prince is going through, he is retraining, relearning, re-experiencing.”
Fielder’s high average through the first two weeks “is a testament” to his hitting abilities, Banister said.
Before Tuesday’s game, Fielder was working with third base coach Tony Beasley on his fielding. Beasley had noticed Fielder’s footwork was a little off on some grounders.
Fielding, however, hasn’t been an issue for Fielder. Neither has hitting, for that matter. But the long ball, until the eighth inning Tuesday night, had remained elusive.
And it didn’t even elicit any boos.
“Boos might fuel Prince. Please boo,” Banister said. “Anything that fuels our guys, I’m all for it.”