Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit
By STEVE KORNACKI  |  Last updated 9/23/13
DETROIT -- If all goes well for Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder -- knock on wood -- he'll play in his 500th consecutive game Tuesday night in Minnesota. A blue-collar, lunch-bucket mentality is required to become an iron man like Fielder, who has missed only one game since May 2008. My father was a steelworker in Ecorse, Mich., for 44 years and never missed a day of work. That always served to inspire me, so I asked Fielder for the source of his relentless work ethic. Mine came from my dad, he said. His father, former Tigers American League home-run champion Cecil Fielder, played in all 162 games in 1991. He was tops with 44 homers and finished second in AL MVP voting for the second consecutive season. I was 11 years old and playing for Chet Lemons AAU team in Florida, said Prince, recalling the former Tigers All-Star center fielder who became prominent in youth baseball in the Sunshine State. I fouled a ball off my shin, and it cramped up. It was bruised pretty good, and I came out. From the bench, Prince noticed his father out of the corner of his eye. Dad came up to the fence, said Prince, and he said, You all right?" Prince informed his father about the injury. I dont think you are hurt, replied his father. Prince shook his head, recalling that moment from 18 summers ago. He wasnt like mad at me when he said that, Prince said. But he made his point and got through to me. "We had a doubleheader coming up, and I played in both games and the rest of the way. Had his father chosen his words carefully to motivate his son? I think he did, Prince said, nodding and smiling. Father and son have not gotten along very well in recent years, but Prince recently stuck a baseball card of his father as a Toronto Blue Jay in the name plate on his locker. Im not sure where it came from, Prince said. But I just thought Id stick it up there. The man his father finished a close second to in MVP voting in 1991, Cal Ripken Jr., broke Lou Gehrigs consecutive games streak and then went well beyond it to establish a streak of 2,632 games, which went from 1982 to 1998. It would take Prince, 29, just over 13 years to break it; however, hes only two seasons away from the 800 plateau scaled by only 10 players. Prince not only plays, he produces. The All-Star first baseman is batting .283 with 25 home runs and 106 RBIs. I asked him what the achievement of playing each game since Sept. 13, 2010 -- when he was with the Milwaukee Brewers -- means to him. Its a challenge to know I can play every day, and I like to play every day, Fielder said. (Tigers owner) Mr. (Mike) Ilitch pays me a lot of money to do it, and I want to play every game and inning. Five hundred games, thats all about staying healthy. At times, its about playing hurt, and Fielder does that about as well as anyone. Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Fielder and his middle-of-the-order partner, Miguel Cabrera, play with pain as well as any athletes hes worked with. They have very high pain thresholds and can play through a lot, Rand said. Since May 9, 2008, Fielder has missed just one game: Sept. 13, 2010, against the Astros in Houston, when food poisoning caused him to become dehydrated and unable to function properly. Fielder had played 326 games in a row up to missing that one.. Hes completing his second season with Detroit and should have 324 consecutive games played for the Tigers headed into 2014. If he stays healthy -- or can play through on days when hes not -- Fielder will break the club record of 511 held by Hall of Fame second baseman Charlie Gehringer in the first month of the 2015 season. Ilitch is paying Fielder 214 million for nine years through the 2020 season, but he grinds out at-bats and games like hes in the last year of a contract. Whenever Prince is hurting, you know hes going out and playing, said Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson, his good friend. Thats tough to do when your knee is barking or your arm is barking, and Prince is playing hard every day. That motivates you to go out there, too. Mental toughness rubs off on those around you, and Prince knows all about that. He can still recall every word of a conversation with his father when he came out of that game because of a bruise. Thats why hes become an iron man.
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