Thursday, March 04, 2010

Fielder Takes Beaning Like a Man

When the Milwaukee Brewers got together with the San Francisco Giants Thursday in Arizona, many thought there was a plunking coming.

Last year, Brewers' first baseman Prince Fielder celebrated a walk-off home run with an obviously choreographed celebration. His teammates pretended to be bowling pins when Fielder jumped on home plate.

It was kind of funny, but not really all that cool because of the code of baseball. It's just not something you do, and while the criticism might have been overblown, it was somewhat justified and understandable.

Thursday was the first time the two teams had met since, and Barry Zito had "the honors."

Fielder picked up the ball and flipped it back to Zito, then jogged to first base without incident. Zito said that home plate umpire Ted Barrett issued a warning to both clubs, but Fielder said that wasn't the case.

After the game, Fielder acted like a guy who knew and understood what he had coming. Zito tried to play dumb.

"I've always said, 'I play the game hard. I run hard. And after that, I don't care what anybody thinks,' " Fielder said. "If that's what they've gotta do, that's what they've gotta do. Let them hit me once, and if that makes them feel better, that's awesome. Now we can just play baseball."

Zito, who pitched 1 2/3 innings in his first outing of the spring, denied trying to send a message with the pitch.

"We were just trying to go in there hard [with fastballs]," Zito said. "It's not something that was thought about for months and months."

This isn't 1994. No one is that dumb, Barry.

Fielder got heat last summer for charging at the Dodgers' clubhouse after a beaning. As free agency looms after this season, Fielder is at least talking like someone prepared to turn over a bit of a new leaf.

"Everytime somebody does something to me, I'm the one being videotaped," Fielder said, "so I'm trying to be a good guy. When kids see me getting crazy ... I'm trying to maintain [composure].

"Unfortunately people like to test it sometimes, but I'm working on it. I'm tired of being the bad guy all the time. I'm trying to work on growing up, I guess."

You have to salute Fielder for handling things the way he did. It's not easy to stand in the box and let a guy -- even if it's the notoriously soft-tossing Zito -- throw a fastball at you. Fielder's handling of this in spring training means it won't hang over both teams when they meet in the regular season.

For that matter, you have to salute the Giants. They followed baseball's code, in that they got the situation over with, didn't let it escalate, and didn't make more if it than it needed to be. It might be stupid stuff to many, but the honor code of a sport is very important, and it was well-followed in this instance.

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