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Fielder's focus back on field

His wife improving after a severe accident, the slugger is trying to restart career with Jays.

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 27, 1999


DUNEDIN -- Around 6:45 on a fall morning, Cecil Fielder had dropped son Prince off at school when the pager went off.

It was Oct. 9, and the news was the kind people have nightmares about. Stacey Lynn Fielder, his wife of 16 years, had been hit by a car while jogging near the couple's Melbourne home.

Fielder was immediately summoned to the emergency room. The sinking feeling, he said, can only be understood by those who have been there.

When Fielder arrived at Wuesthoff Hospital, he learned that Stacey had been thrown over the roof of a car driven by a 17-year-old. She was being prepared for surgery.

Suddenly, his long and storied baseball career seemed trivial. His stunning dismissal by the Anaheim Angels late in the season -- despite being tied for the team lead with 68 RBI -- appeared meaningless. Whether he ever picked up a bat again became inconsequential.

"It sends a message to you," Fielder said as he dressed for his second day of spring workouts with the Toronto Blue Jays. "What's more important? Of course, my family is. Baseball is business and has been a big part of my life but after all, my family is my life."

Stacey Fielder, 33, broke bones in her lower legs and a shoulder and received about 1,000 stitches. She was in the hospital for two weeks and is home recovering.

No charges were filed in the accident.

"She's coming around," he said. "She took a severe hit."

It also was a severe hit to Fielder. After seeing his numbers decline in recent years, dealing with a nagging thumb injury and never really understanding why the Angels let him go Aug. 10, the 35-year-old began to consider retirement.

"I said if I can't get her up and moving around on her feet, then there's no sense in me leaving home," Fielder said. "I thought I should stay home and take care of her. I was really thinking about (retirement), really thinking about it."

The Jays, for whom Fielder played in the mid-'80s, helped derail those thoughts.

Desperate for a run-producer who could help protect slugger Carlos Delgado, Toronto signed Fielder in February to a minor-league contract worth $500,000 with about $1-million in incentives should he make the club.

Once Stacey gave him the green light, the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder known as "Big Daddy" was back in the game.

"I have no problems now," he said. "Mentally, I'm straight. I'm feeling good about being back in baseball. I'm ready to get back out there and put in some work. It's all good."

Make no mistake: The Jays did not bring in Fielder, who will compete with Geronimo Berroa for the DH spot, for sentimental value. He is here to win a job.

The departure of Jose Canseco, who signed with the Devil Rays, left Toronto desperate for a power hitter, and Toronto wants to see if Fielder's that man.

"Right now, when I think of Cecil, when I see him, when I consider his career, my first initial thought is Jose," manager Tim Johnson said. "Last year, Jose came in in the same situation and rose to the occasion and hit 46 home runs and 107 RBI. Now, that's what we're looking for if Cecil can do that."

When in form, Fielder is fantastic. Through 11 seasons, Fielder has 319 home runs and 1,008 RBI. He hit 51 homers in 1990 and 44 in 1991 for Detroit. A one-year stint with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan produced 38 homers and 81 RBI. "They lost somebody that drove in 107 runs last year and they need some type of similar production," Fielder said. "My goal is to drive in 100 runs. Anything above 100 runs is great. If I can accomplish that, I feel like I would have done my job."

There are some in the Jays front office, such as third-base coach Lloyd Moseby and assistant general manager Dave Stewart, who believe Fielder is a perfect fit for the circumstances.

"He brings a kind of stability you're looking for," said Moseby, who was a teammate of Fielder's in Toronto. "Here's a man who, if he can get halfway back to what he is used to, then we have something special.

"We're trying to replace a Jose. But Cecil doesn't need to hit 47 home runs to drive in 107 runs. I think Cecil can drive in 107 hitting 25. He's an RBI man. This man's a warrior."

The warrior's numbers, however, have declined significantly over the years. In his past two seasons, Fielder has averaged 15 homers and 64 RBI.

Johnson said the team expects more.

"Yes, it's asking a lot, but he can do it," Johnson said. "He's done it in the past and now we have to see if he has that kind of year left. Jose proved he had that year left. Cecil could. Look at his track record, there's no question about it."

Added Moseby: "I'm so happy to have this guy around. I know I'm being selfish because he's a personal friend of mine. But I'm also being selfish because I think he can help us win."

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