They say a picture is worth 1,000 words…but 1,000 words wouldn’t nearly do this picture of a young Prince Fielder justice.
Take a look at this picture. When historians seek a single image that screams “1991”, this will be the image they use. On the surface, it is merely an overweight child playing catch with an unseen person, with a Major League ballplayer watching bemused behind him. Dig a little deeper though and this photo…well this photo is more than just your standard fat kid playing catch snapshot.
From head to toe, Prince Fielder is covered in the latest and greatest of 1990s fashion as he gets ready to throw a ball before a Tigers-Blue Jays game on the AstroTurf at Toronto’s SkyDome. Kid ‘n Play is presumably bumping in the background because…well because chubby kids in the 90s loved Kid ‘n Play and when you’re the son of one of the most prolific sluggers of the late ’80s-early ’90s, you have a tendency to get whatever the hell you want. It’s hard to imagine that professional sports were ever played on that surface, which looks more like a green carpet covering someone’s living room than it does a baseball “field”. But I digress.
Note the smorgasbord of teams represented in his outfit. The Tigers cap, the New York Giants t-shirt and the Cubs pants, all except the hat Zubaz. One shoe tied, the other completely undone, much like Fielder’s current relationships with his own kids (reportedly good) and his father Cecil (not so good). It’s safe to assume he’s playing catch with his dad, because that’s what players do with their kids before games every now and again. However, in this photo, much like in 2012, Cecil isn’t in the picture.
Behind him lurks a disappointed man who would know a lot of disappointment in his later years. That’s beloved Tigers slugger Alan Trammel, watching in detached bemusement at the manchild who would grow up to sign a deal worth roughly four times what the entire Tigers payroll was watching at the time. That look would become familiar to Trammell as he aged, first as manager of a 2003 Tigers team that would win a whopping 43 games while losing 119. It would also become the look he (presumably) has worn every year that’s come and gone without the Hall of Fame giving him a ring. His shoulders are slumped, his posture imperfect, his mind clearly wandering as he detachedly watches the chubby child heave a ball before a meaningless game.
On the day of Prince’s signing, this might be the definitive photograph of his childhood, playing catch with an unknown participant. The potential future Hall of Famer performing in front of a guy who was good enough to be a Tigers legend, but not an all-timer. The gleam in Prince’s eye is the same then as it likely was today, when uber-agent Scott Boras told him that he was about to become richer than Scrooge McDuck himself. On the surface, an ordinary photo. Below the surface, it’s so much more.
(pic via SI Vault)