MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Fielder left lasting legacy in Milwaukee

Fielder left lasting legacy in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE --- Baseball will miss Prince Fielder. Ask the Milwaukee Brewers; they've been missing him since 2011.

Two neck surgeries in two years forced Fielder to end his career at age 32.

"The doctors told me that with two spinal fusions, I can't play Major League Baseball anymore," Fielder said in a tearful news conference Wednesday at Globe Life Park. "I just want to thank my teammates, all the coaches. I'm really going to miss being around those guys. It was a lot of fun. I've been in a big league clubhouse since I was their age, and not being able to play is tough."

Many of Fielder's finest seasons were played with the Brewers. He was a No. 1 Draft choice by Milwaukee in 2002. Fielder was at the core of a rebuilding project that culminated with a division title and a franchise-record 96-victory season in 2011. He became a free agent after that season and signed a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Tigers. Fielder was traded to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler after the 2013 season.

Two prominent members of the Brewers' organization were teammates of Fielder for five seasons in Milwaukee. Craig Counsell, now the Brewers' manager, and outfielder Ryan Braun, still a mainstay in the club's lineup, expressed sorrow over the premature end of Fielder's career.

"I'm sad," Counsell said. "The game never lets anybody go when they completely want to, but for somebody like him, he should still be in the middle of a great career. It's sad that it has to happen like that. Our thoughts go out to him."

Counsell went through the same injury, the same surgery with the same surgeon in 2002.

"I know what he's going through. I know the pain he's experiencing," Counsell said.

Braun, who formed with Fielder one of the game's most impressive middle-of-the-lineup pairings, expressed the same sort of feelings about the early end of an impressive career.

"It's sad. It's heartbreaking for him. I'm sure it's a devastating thing for him and his family," Braun said. "It's tough for us to see it. Obviously, he was here for a long time and had such a tremendous impact on this organization. He played so hard and competed so hard every day. It's just a very difficult thing to watch his career come to an end like this.

"I remember how hard he competed. I think he played the game as hard and competed as hard as anybody I ever had on my team. He's a guy who never wanted to come out of any game, played through so many injuries, wanted to play every inning of every game. For a guy of his build, it was incredibly impressive. He ran every ground ball out, just really played the game hard and it was something that everybody else on the team fed off of."

The numbers never told the total story with Fielder, although the numbers were impressive, as in a 50-home run season, a 46-home run season, a 141-RBI season. He was a genuine leader not only because of his example on the field, but because he was someone of substance.

"Prince was a player who probably taught me as much as any player about the game." Counsell said. "The way he played, the way he thought. Quite honestly, with him being a young African-American player, he taught me a lot about that, what that feels like.

"I'm a huge fan of the guy, man. I learned so much from him about baseball, about life. He watched hitting as well as anybody I've ever seen, the way he picked apart players, hitters, pitchers. I really valued my time with him, and I'm really saddened by this news. This is not the way it should end for him."

There was an indestructible quality about Fielder in his six-plus years with Milwaukee. His durability was remarkable. Fielder set a Brewers record by playing in 374 consecutive games before sitting out a game in Houston with the flu. He was so sick that the Astros' team doctor administered intravenous fluids, and Fielder still lobbied for a spot in the lineup.

Fielder started a new streak that spanned 547 games and three teams -- the Brewers, the Tigers and the Rangers. The 547-game streak, which ended with the onset of his neck problems, is the 25th-longest streak in Major League history.

"Playing every day like he did, I don't think it's always a physical test," Counsell said. "It was a mental toughness test that Prince was able to pass every day. He just decided he was going to play. The physical stuff didn't matter. He just decided: 'I'm going to play.' What I admired about that streak was not that he was physically able; it was that mentally he decided to do it."

At the end, Fielder has been a player and an individual for whom no adequate replacement has been found.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.