MARIETTA, Ga. - Former Major League slugger Cecil Fielder walked onto the playing surface on Field 2 at the East Cobb Baseball Complex late Thursday morning and found a seat in the visiting team's dugout.
Fielder, still a big man at age 48 and almost 14 years removed from his final game in the big leagues, was decked out in the uniform of the Double Day Yankees 14u squad, a Rome, Ga.-based team that's been here in the northwest Atlanta suburbs the last two days to participate in the 2012 14u/15u Perfect Game-East Cobb Invitational.
Fielder is the head coach of this sharply attired outfit, and has been helping with the Double Day Baseball organization for the past several years. He is wearing the same uniform as his 14-year-old charges, except that he fills his out a little more and the words "Big Daddy" are stitched into the side of his cap. "Big Daddy" was Fielder's nickname during his 13-year MLB career.
He is no longer concerned with trying to take big-league pitchers out of the ballpark, although for a stretch in early 1990s he did that about as well as anyone. Fielder's focus these days is on trying to impart some of the wisdom he gained during a fairly productive professional career on the brains of impressionable 14-year-olds.
"The reason that I'm in it is because somebody helped me when I was young; I had coaches ... from all of my young days of high school who were there for me," Fielder said after warmly greeting a visitor wearing a PG shirt. "What I can give these kids - and I tell people all the time that I can't give them my playing skills because I can't do that anymore - is that I have so much knowledge of baseball that I can give them that and pass that along."
The 14u/15u PG-EC Invitational provides an ideal setting for such an endeavor. There are 60 14u and 15u teams here for the event, most of them from Georgia but several others from nearby states and Texas and even one from Puerto Rico. Fielder's roster is filled with youngsters from in and around the Rome and Adairsville communities.
"This is the ultimate type of event for these kids to be in because a lot of times my kids who (are local), they've never been in this situation in their lives," Fielder said. "A lot of these kids have played in rec ball, and for a couple of these kids it's the first time they've had the opportunity to play travel ball. It's an eye-opener for them because for years they've been good players in rec ball but now they're at a level where these teams that we're playing, they're top-notch kids.
"For my kids this is a very good eye-opener and now, as we got to 15, 16 and 17, this tournament is going to be a great opportunity for them to know what they have to do to prepare themselves to get ready for future years."
Fielder was a fourth-round pick of the Kansas City Royals in the 1982 amateur draft and enjoyed his greatest seasons from 1990 to 1995 with the Detroit Tigers. He produced four straight 30-home run, 100-RBI seasons from '90 through '93 and in 1990 smacked 51 home runs and drove in 132 runs. In 13 big league seasons he hit .255 with 319 homers and 1,009 RBI, and earned a World Series ring with the Yankees in 1996.
Fielder is the father of Tigers superstar first baseman Prince Fielder, who was introduced to Perfect Game in 2001. Prince Fielder played in the 2001 PG WWBA World Championship where he was joined by 20 other future first-rounders, including Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Lastings Milledge, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and B.J. Upton. Prince was also at the 2001 Perfect Game National Showcase with most of those same guys, along with future first-rounders Alex Gordon and Denard Span.
"That was priceless for Prince," Cecil Fielder said. "If you're able to play on that level with those type of kids - and now, most of those kids are playing in the big leagues - you see how development is so crucial. You have to keep taking your game to the next level, no matter if you're playing high school ball, or college ball or professional baseball; the No. 1 thing you have to do is compete, and if you cannot compete you don't need to be playing."
Fielder is finding that working with 14-year-olds can be as challenging as it is rewarding. It's really nothing more complicated than the nature of adolescence.
"The 14-year age group is difficult because they're going through a little transition; they think they know everything," he said with a smile. "You just have to keep pounding it in their head when you're at practice, hitting those ground balls and fly balls, and make them try to understand how to play the game the right way.
"I've been in situations that they've been in now where they didn't come through and they failed - failure is part of this game," Fielder continued. "You have to be able to translate that to the kids; get on 'em when you have to get on 'em but give them a pat on the butt when you have to do that, too."
The Double Day Yankees 14u squad lost its first two pool-play games on Wednesday and Thursday and won't be around for the tournament's playoffs, which begin Saturday. Despite the disappointment, the Yankees will definitely show up for their final game Friday afternoon, bolstered by the words their head coach frequently shares with them.
"I always tell the kids that one thing we need to do each time is never give up," Fielder concluded. "You've got to go out there (and play) hard (and) the game ain't over until the fat lady sings; that's one thing that I always preach. I think they're catching on now, and they understand that with each team they play, they've just got another jersey on. Any team can win on any given day, and that's how you've got to play the game."