Watching Prince Fielder battling through tears while announcing his retirement from baseball, emotions ran deep for many, including his former high school baseball coach at Florida Air Academy, Wayne Tyson. Fielder played three years for Tyson from 1999-2001, drawing a close relationship with his coach during his tenure there. The news of Fielder’s struggle tremendously pained Tyson.
“He worked so hard at it and that’s something that I will always appreciate,” Tyson said. “It broke my heart to hear that his career was going to be over. … I think this has to crush him because it has mattered [so much] to him.”
Bashing home runs out of Tiger Stadium at the age of 12, Fielder entered high school with a skill set that was well above a typical freshman. Despite his advanced talents, Fielder was Tyson’s hardest worker and most energetic player.
“He just continued to work at his game just like any player, but he worked at it very hard,” he said. “He did have a talent level that was above most obviously. In the batting cage, you would be out there working in the cage with him and he’d say, ‘Gimme one more.’ You would throw him one more and it’s a bullet off the back of the cage and he says, ‘I mean a bucket.’ He wanted one more bucket! That’s the way he was. He never shied away from doing anything we did in practice. He did everything with energy; that includes base running and fielding. Everything he did, he did with a great energy. I had other guys that played at the same time with him that wouldn’t give me the same juice.”
Fielder had his coming of age moment on the field during his freshman year that reinforced his major league prospects. Tyson remembers his first high school home run signaling that Fielder had arrived.
“We knew his freshman year,” he said. “His first home run was hit in John Carroll high school in Fort Pierce against a wind that was going from the left field foul pole to the right field foul pole. He hit it out to left-center at about the 375 mark; it was a screaming line drive, as a freshman! He hit that home run and I said, ‘That’s a big league bat.’ You knew it. [He did it] in a game situation, a competitive tight game that went extra innings. That was amazing.”
As Fielder progressed through high school, Tyson noticed how Fielder’s growing leadership helped to reinforce the culture that Tyson was trying to create. His actions on the field and his interactions with his teammates took some of the weight off of Tyson’s shoulders to police the dugout.
“He became very vocal in the right way,” he said. “He was kind of a quiet leader as a freshman in his own way. Even as a freshman, he had something that stood out. By his sophomore year, he started to really take the bull by the horns, by his junior year, my gosh! You didn’t need to run the dugout. He brought the energy; he knew how to pick a guy up and hold a guy accountable in the right way.”
The same vibe that Fielder possessed on the field and in the dugout as a high schooler hasn’t changed in Tyson’s eyes over the past 15 years. Watching him on the major league stage, Fielder’s core personality remains unchanged.
“I can tell you his love for the game has never changed, it’s never flagged,” he said. “He had a tremendous passion [back then] and he has a tremendous passion now. He always has something good to say about someone else. That hasn’t changed. He was instilled with some good qualities growing up and he has a wonderful personality and persona to be a team leader.
“He was coachable, he befriended his teammates. He was never bigger than them in his own eyes. You knew he had big league talent, but he didn’t big league anybody.”