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Prince doesn't mind taking path less traveled

Prince doesn't mind taking path less traveled

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Prince doesn't mind taking path less traveled
JUPITER, Fla. -- A man who routinely puts great distance between launch and landing did so in a different manner Tuesday morning. At 7 a.m., Prince Fielder put his oversized leg into his personal ride. Destination: East Coast of Florida. And at 9:45, he stepped out of his car in clear violation of the unwritten big-name, big league rule that states guys earning more that the gross national product of a small country don't make long trips.

Even if they're permitted, as Fielder was, to skip the team bus, the rule of thumb is the higher the profile of the player, the shorter the average length of trip in Spring Training. Baseball round-trips in this state that don't involve Fort Myers or Port Charlotte don't get much longer than Lakeland to Jupiter and back. And Fielder was weaned on Spring Training trips in Arizona that usually are shorter than the next conversation between Derek Jeter and Bobby Valentine is likely to be.

Nonetheless, the Prince was on the clay, infield cutout of Roger Dean Stadium well before noon, taking ground balls, smiling and enjoying a delightful Florida day. "Gotta have a first baseman," he said.

Someone recalled Roberto Alomar snarling about a Fort Lauderdale-to-Vero Beach trip (about two hours each way) some years ago when his Orioles were in South Florida and the Dodgers were in Florida, period. The complaining ended when Alomar learned Cal Ripken would be on the same bus. They call that leading by example.

The Prince squawked not at all Tuesday; that's leading by doing nothing.

The Tigers make a practice of having all their players make some unpopular trips, regardless of the hardware the players may have earned. So when Fielder is working in Lakeland on Thursday, the defending American League batting champion, Miguel Cabrera, will be bussing to Port Charlotte, which is roughly 90 minutes from anywhere and 2 1/2-2 3/4 hours from the Tigers' home base.

"I don't really mind it," Fielder said. "You shouldn't put yourself ahead of anyone else. And if I wanted to, I don't think the manager would go for it." Evidently, little prima exists in Fielder's donna.

He is, as Thurman Munson used to say at every turn, "just happy to be here." But Fielder is sincere about it. Driving his own wheels with his own music playing at his preferred volume made the trip all right. Moreover, his return trip would end at his winter home in Orlando, where his family awaited him.

Still, in some Spring Training clubhouses, the next day's itinerary and the list of those who are to travel can result in upset players and, sometimes, upset stomachs the next morning. Too sick to travel, skip.

Fielder smiled at the suggestion.

But how can he act any differently? The Tigers have welcomed him warmly. "It's like when you're in high school," he said, "and the cool kid [in this case, Cabrera] comes to you, it makes you cool." And Cabrera did that; so did Justin Verlander. The Prince is decidedly cool, now, and not about to "big league" anyone now that he is.

"Out in Arizona, you might have to go to Tucson," he said. "But the longest trip other than that was about 20 minutes." With the Dodgers, Reds, Rangers, White Sox, Indians and Royals gone to Arizona and the Twins and Red Sox in Fort Myers, the remaining Florida-based players spend many more hours in busses than their Arizona brethren.

"But we all make the trip here," Fielder said. "I'm good with it."

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