Yesterday, Prince Fielder signed a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Detroit Tigers.
If Fielder had been traded before last offseason, maybe it wouldn’t have been so tough. The offseason of 2011 was set up to be the transition period for the franchise. The team would go young with a bevy of prospects who could potentially bring the Brewers back to the playoffs along with Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo. We understood Prince was gone — the standing ovation he received in Milwaukee’s last game at Miller Park was the beginning of the grieving process.
But first the Brewers traded for Shaun Marcum, and then the Brewers traded for Zack Greinke. The Prince Fielder grieving process stopped dead in its tracks and pulled a 180 on a dime. All of a sudden, there were thoughts of playoffs, championships, and all with Prince as a Brewer. The window, somehow, remained open.
The Brewers fell short, but the ride was wonderful. The new NL Central championship banner hanging at Miller Park represents the accomplishments of Fielder and the Brewers in 2011. The regular season was so great it was difficult to stave off thoughts of a potential Prince return to Milwaukee — after all, Prince always cared about winning, and if teams like Seattle and Washington were the teams willing to pay Fielder the most, maybe Milwaukee could convince him to return on a deal the Brewers could afford.
Hope springs eternal, right?
For Prince Fielder, it must have felt as if winter was eternal. First the Winter Meetings passed, and Albert Pujols signed his megadeal. But Fielder was left hanging as the Marlins decided to go with Mark Buehrle as their second impact player behind Jose Reyes. December plodded on, and the markets cleared. But Washington and Seattle loomed, as did Texas buttressed by their new billion-dollar television deal. The Brewers continued to spend in other places — K-Rod accepted arbitration, and the Brewers added a left side of the infield with Aramis Ramirez and Alex Gonzalez. But who knows — maybe Mark Attanasio, a man who has proved his willingness to spend, would splurge for another chance at a title behind Prince Fielder.
Then came January, and the Rangers blew $51 million on Yu Darvish’s posting fee and another $60 million on a six-year contract. All indications from the beat writers and the business types said they were out of the Prince Fielder sweepstakes. Then came the rumors the Nationals had put the finishing touches on a Fielder contract. Then those rumors proved to be false — the Nationals were out too.
With every cold January day that passed, that tiny hope grew. Maybe he’ll have nowhere else to go. Maybe the team that made Beast Mode a Wisconsin phenomenon was just the right landing spot.
But things rarely work out so cleanly, especially when it comes to the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club. We could cite economics. We could cite Scott Boras’s infuriating yet surgical skill as an agent. But realistically, there was no way Prince Fielder was ever coming back to Milwaukee.
For three months, we avoided reality and flirted with fantasy. Prince Fielder is gone now, and $214 million says there was no chance he was ever coming back. Personally, I’m happy for Fielder, and I’m happy he won’t be plying his trade against the Brewers in the National League for the next nine years. We’ve known for at least the last three years Fielder would eventually wear a different jersey. The Brewers may even compete in 2012 without him.
Still, watching Brewers baseball will not be the same without Fielder the hitter and without Fielder the teammate on the field. But the memories are plentiful, and I am just grateful we had the chance to call him ours for those six awesome years.