Detroit — You could, sacrilegiously perhaps, call him the Prince of peace.
The secular version fits Prince Fielder. Anyone could see Thursday, as he stood in the Rangers clubhouse at Comerica Park, a more serene, more at ease man of 31, probably less jabbed by all the scrutiny and events that made his two seasons in Detroit seemingly a mixed experience.
“It’s like going anywhere else,” Fielder said with a smile that was more like a shrug as he talked about his 2012 and 2013 seasons with the Tigers, and about Thursday’s relative homecoming with his new team, the Rangers.
He looks as fabulous as his numbers six weeks before the playoffs begin, which might include Fielder’s surging Rangers team. He leads the American League in batting average (.324) and hits (146), and is third in on-base average (.391). No hitter in the league has a better road batting average (.330) or is better against right-handed pitchers (.363).
Toss in his shorter hair, a sleeker build, and an occasional quip, and this is, cosmetically and maybe soulfully, a different player from the first baseman whose Tigers career ended on the last day of the 2013 season in a Game 6 American League Championship Series loss to the Red Sox.
It wasn’t a smooth exit. Fielder hit .182 with a .507 OPS against the eventual world champions.
Fielder’s hollow ALCS was included in Detroit’s baseball post-mortem. So were his last words in a Tigers uniform.
“It’s not really tough,” he said when asked if the ALCS knockout would linger. “For me, it’s over. I got kids I gotta take care of, I got things to take care of. For me, it’s over.”
If anyone with a Tigers attachment wasn’t already irked by Fielder’s air, he all but doubled down when he said “failure is part of the game.”
There might have been a straightforwardness about where baseball fit on life’s spectrum compared with his two young sons. But his closing remarks landed like furniture thrown from a 10-story window.
None of that seemed worth chewing on Thursday, at least in detail, for a former first baseman who is content working now as a full-time designated hitter.
Fielder, in fact, said Detroit was all about good memories. Including 2013’s postseason.
“We went to the playoffs,” he said. “We went to the World Series once (2012). I was just happy to have been part of it.”
Fielder was traded six weeks later. He and his contract, which had been a nine-year package worth $214 million when he signed with the Tigers in January 2012, were shipped to the Ranters in a deal that brought Ian Kinsler to Detroit.
The Rangers also were getting $30 million from the Tigers to help with Fielder’s down-the-road paydays. It was considered something of a magic act by Dave Dombrowski, then the Tigers general manager, to have off-loaded a contract so vast when Fielder was months from turning 30.
But the Rangers wanted a hitter. A big hitter. And they have gotten him in Fielder, even if the dividends are showing up a year late.
Fielder had neck surgery 15 months ago and played in 42 games in 2014. This season, he has missed three games. Neither has he missed many pitches.
“A hitter who can slug,” said Rangers manager Jeff Banister, offering his dugout view of Fielder, who has 17 home runs. “When pitchers throw him away, he’ll hit the ball to left field.
“They come in on him and he’ll turn on it. He even bunted to get on base during spring training, so he’s got that in his bag, too.”
Banister was having fun there, but Fielder’s 2015 has been no fun — for opposing pitchers. It’s the reason Rangers general manager Jon Daniels bit on Fielder in 2013. It’s why the Rangers took on a Scott Boras-engineered pact that originally was equivalent to what Tigers owner Mike Ilitch paid for his portion of Comerica Park.
Fielder wasn’t talking money Thursday as he got ready for batting practice on a field where he once worked as Detroit’s everyday first baseman. Rather, he spoke about being content, about the fulfillment of having a healthy family, and, tellingly, a happy marriage, which has healed following some 2013 strife.
Those boos he anticipated from a Tigers crowd that might still be sore about 2013’s closeout?
“That’s what they’re supposed to do,” Fielder said, with a chuckle, which sounded more like a commentary on a man, and his mind, in 2015.