Prince Fielder is surprisingly upbeat just six months after medical issues brought his baseball career to an abrupt and tearful end.
He spends a lot of time shuttling his sons, Jadyn, 12, and Haven, 10, back and forth to baseball and basketball games and practices, and he’s diving into a new field with a cooking-and-interview show called “Fielder’s Choice,” which he’ll co-host with his wife.
It’s a stark contrast from the last time we saw Fielder, when he appeared at a news conference in Arlington, Texas — wearing a neck brace — and cried when announcing his retirement at age 32. He was 12 days removed from a second spinal-fusion surgery, and doctors told him he was physically incapable of playing any longer.
“It kind of sucks because it feels like it was taken away from me a little too early,” Fielder told reporters in the room at the time.
But Fielder has learned there is indeed life after the game.
He shared his thoughts on baseball, retirement and his fondness for food shows in a conversation with ESPN.com.
What’s a typical day in the life of Prince Fielder now?
Prince Fielder: I’m just living a normal life — a regular life, as people would call it. I’m enjoying it. I’m still working out. It keeps me feeling good about things. I get to kind of pretend I’m going to play baseball. I get to work out and do all the stuff that was part of baseball. I just don’t get to play.
And you have a new venture coming out soon?
PF: I have a food show that’s going to be streaming on Netflix and Hulu. It’s coming out around the beginning of spring training in March, I believe. It’s not just baseball people. It’s a mixture of baseball people, actors, musicians, chefs and whatnot. They bring out different dishes, and at the end of the show, I give the one I like the most the “Fielder’s choice.” It’s good TV.
How did that come about?
PF: A friend of mine asked me a question at the end of 2015. We were going over my finances and setting things up for the future when she said, “What do you want to do when you retire?” I said, “I always wanted to do a food show.” I thought it might be a cool thing to do when I retired a few years later. Then retirement came slightly prematurely.
Who are some of the guests you’re having on the show?
PF: Chazz Palminteri, the actor. Jose Feliciano, the guy who sang, “Feliz Navidad.” Xzibit (the rapper). CC Sabathia. I can’t reveal the other names yet, but there are a couple more cool ones coming up.
Do you have any favorite food shows?
PF: I like all of them. One of my favorites is on Vice — Action Bronson in “F—, That’s Delicious.” That’s the name of the show.
When I was playing, my wife and kids would go on the road with me, and we would go to different lunch spots that we saw on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” She would look something up on the internet and find the best restaurants and these little sandwich and taco spots, and we would go there.
When you reflect on the day in August when you announced your retirement, how difficult was that for you?
PF: It was pretty hard to actually have to say the words with my teammates, my wife and my boys there. I realized it was going to happen before that day, but to have to announce it and talk about in front of a lot of people was tougher than I expected. I’m glad that feeling has kind of gone away. That sadness hasn’t lingered.
Did anyone help you through the withdrawal of not playing ball?
PF: Not really. Everybody else was busy playing, so I didn’t have many people to talk to like that. My main goal now is waking up healthy every day and going on with life. There are maybe one or two hours a day when I think I can play, but I get over that real quick once I realize the risk and my wife tells me, “Just take a seat.”
Have you traveled at all?
PF: We took a family trip to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia over Christmas and New Year’s. Three weeks was a long time, but it was cool, man. We were on the ocean, so that was kind of intense. After a couple of days you realize how far out you are.
Do the doctors say there’s a risk you could reinjure your neck? How limited are you?
PF: I definitely don’t want to run any 5K races anytime soon. I can work out pretty hard as far as intensity. But as far as playing basketball or anything high impact, it’s probably not smart for me to do. I stick to safe, controlled movement. If it’s not safe, I just won’t do it. I have nothing left to prove. I’ve already done enough to my neck.
You played 162 games a year four times and missed only 13 games over eight seasons. How much of a toll did that take on your body?
PF: Obviously, I think this caused my early retirement, but I couldn’t do it any other way. Just for the record, I never asked for any of the days off in my career. I fought every one of them. I guess you need days off, but I just didn’t want them.
A lot of people probably say I’m stupid, and they’re probably right, because there are people who take days off who are still in the league, and I’m not. But it’s easier for me to accept that I can’t play anymore because I literally gave it all I got. That allows me to be a little bit more at peace.
Now that you’ve retired, are you planning to do any work for the Rangers?
PF: I’d like to help out in any way I can, especially with the younger guys in the minor leagues. But as far as setting something up, we haven’t really talked about it. Honestly, right now, I don’t want to be around baseball. Not that I don’t like it. But I’m having fun right here, hanging around my family and watching my kids’ games.
You appeared in only 89 games last year because of injury. What was that like?
PF: There was a lot to deal with. Obviously I wasn’t playing well at the time. But as a player, you lie to yourself. You say, “There’s nothing wrong. I’m just not on time [at the plate].” You make something else up because pain is not an option. Once I started getting multiple days off in a row, it was a long year for me. That had never happened, and everybody knew I didn’t like it.
After last year, it’s nice to finally be able to wake up and tie my shoes without feeling like I’m about to tip over, or walk a straight line without feeling dizzy, or be able to feel my left arm. That means a lot more to me. I’m not really in a hurry to ever wear a neck brace. That’s why I’m kind of positive about it, because I’m healthy.
Do you ever feel as if you were robbed of something?
PF: No. To me it’s kind of an awesome movie. It’s kind of glorious to say, “Oh man, this guy had his career cut short.” I’m not calling myself Sandy Koufax by any means. I’m not in that caliber at all, but sometimes it has to end different. You don’t need to have a perfect ending to be happy. Write that down.
You’ve had your ups and downs with your father, Cecil. When did you realize that you both finished your careers with 319 home runs?
PF: I saw that after I retired. It was just weird. With all the games we played, neither one of us could hit one more home run? Obviously, it was supposed to go that way. It’s a pretty cool thing, I guess.
What do you miss most this time of year?
PF: I miss the guys, and I miss playing baseball. Just being able to swing the bat, or run, or dive for a ball, or slide into second. If I could even do that in a softball league, I would never miss anything about baseball. I don’t miss the crowds or the travel or even being in the big leagues. I just miss being able to take batting practice and being able to swing as hard as I can. That’s all I miss.
How would you like people to remember you as a player?
That I was a guy who came to work every day. I was there. When my manager got to the field at 12, I felt like there was no reason for him to ever wonder if I was playing. For me, that’s a big deal. I teach that to my kids. I’ve always said, “You make a lot of money in Major League Baseball, and it’s all guaranteed, so what do you have to lose by going all out?” I got hurt and lost my career. But that’s why they do it — so you can give all you’ve got.
By Jerry Crasnick