Thursday, August 06, 2009

Dumbest Man in America

Prince Fielder

A Day After Fielder Tries to Storm a Clubhouse, Cool Heads Prevail
Published: August 5, 2009
LOS ANGELES — Prince Fielder gazed intently into the bathroom mirror in the visiting clubhouse, studied his freshly cut hair for a moment and then gave his approval with a smile.

Although Fielder seemed content with the cut Wednesday afternoon, the Brewers’ slugger was not so pleased with the man who had left a mark on him the night before.

After the final out of the Brewers’ 17-4 loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday, Fielder charged through the hallway that joins the visiting and home clubhouses in an effort to confront Dodgers reliever Guillermo Mota, who had hit Fielder with a fastball in the thigh with two out in the ninth inning.

Fielder was stopped from entering the clubhouse by a security guard, who soon had reinforcements from other officers and some of Fielder’s teammates. They led Fielder back through fans who waited for players’ autographs and into the Brewers’ clubhouse.

The Brewers felt Mota’s pitch was in retaliation for Brewers reliever Chris Smith’s nicking the Dodgers’ best hitter, Manny Ramirez, with an inside fastball in the seventh inning. Another Milwaukee reliever, R. J. Swindle, hit Juan Pierre in the eighth.

What Fielder intended to do if he had breached the home clubhouse apparently will be left to the imagination. He deflected questions Tuesday night, and on Wednesday, the Brewers’ director of media relations, Mike Vassallo, stood sentry in front of Fielder’s stall and informed reporters that Fielder would not be answering questions about the incident.

It was not the only extra security detail. The Dodgers called in several guards three hours earlier than usual, so they had eight deployed around the clubhouse by 2:30 p.m., when many players began to arrive.

Ramirez was out of the lineup Wednesday in the last regular-season game between Los Angeles and Milwaukee, which also happened to be Manny Ramirez Poster Night. Manager Joe Torre said the lineup change was not related to the previous night’s incident. When Brewers Manager Ken Macha was informed that Ramirez would begin the night on the bench, he channeled his inner Captain Renault. “Shocking,” he said.

Macha said he was on the phone for an hour with Major League Baseball officials, who will be determining whether to fine Mota, who was ejected, or Fielder for their actions.

Macha was the rare man in uniform who was interested in discussing the matter Wednesday. Several players in each clubhouse declined to talk, and others gave bland answers. Torre, who often patiently answers any question — including those in the wake of Ramirez’s drug suspension — was not in the mood, either.

“I’m a little surprised and disappointed that this is taking all the attention,” Torre said to about 30 members of the news media who gathered in the dugout before the game. “I’m not going to waste a lot of time trying to discuss and viewpoint this and viewpoint that.”

By hitting Fielder, Mota at least seemed to be answering questions about the resolve of Dodgers pitchers to protect their hitters. In last year’s National League Championship Series, Phillies pitcher Brett Myers threw a fastball under the chin of Ramirez, and Dodgers pitcher Chad Billingsley did not retaliate.

But Torre said such a link between then and Tuesday was a reach. “You’re trying to connect the dots with a very long line,” he said.

As it turned out, Fielder was the center of attention again Wednesday in Milwaukee’s 4-1 win. Each time he came to the plate, the crowd of 50,276 booed vigorously. Fielder was 0 for 5, but he did chug down the line to beat a relay throw, thwarting a double play and allowing the Brewers to tie the score, 1-1. He also caught the Dodgers by surprise, stealing second with a thunderous head-first slide.

“I expected it,” said Fielder of the fans’ booing. “Their team is the Dodgers.”

The Brewers talked about Tuesday’s incident in a pre-game meeting. But save for Ramirez’s pinch-hit appearance in the seventh inning — he grounded out with two runners aboard — there was not much other drama. Mota, who threw 38 pitches Tuesday, did not pitch.

It was also a less eventful evening for William Gomez, who has stood guard outside the Dodgers clubhouse for seven years, but had never encountered a player like Fielder.

It is common for opponents to head past him after games on their way to use the weight-lifting equipment and batting cages that are past the Dodgers’ clubhouse.

Gomez said he heard Fielder arguing with his teammate Ryan Braun. “I thought something’s up,” Gomez said. “I told him, ‘I can’t let you in, sir.’ ”

Gomez was more successful at keeping the 270-pound Fielder at bay than any of his teammates who tried.

“Try?” asked Braun. “It was like a raging bull.”

Rare as it may be for a player to go into an opposing clubhouse to challenge another player, it is not uncommon for Mota. In 2002 and 2003, during his first stint with the Dodgers, he upset Mets catcher Mike Piazza by hitting him with pitches in spring training games. After the first incident, Piazza wrapped both hands around Mota’s neck between innings. The next year, Piazza at first charged Mota on the mound and later went into the Dodgers’ clubhouse after the game, but Mota had already left.

“Why do people get so mad?” Mota said Wednesday. “It’s baseball. We have to pitch inside, whether it’s Piazza, Braun or Fielder. We have to pitch inside.”

Mota said he was particularly surprised by Fielder’s reaction.

Fielder lay on the ground after being hit with a look of disbelief, wondering why Mota — his teammate last year — would have hit him. It was a look of bemusement, rather than anger.

“I was thinking he was a good friend,” said Mota, who was lifting weights when Fielder made his run toward the clubhouse. Mota said he found out about Fielder’s charge when he returned from his postgame workout.

A few minutes earlier, as Mota returned to his stall, he could not betray his feelings. The clubhouse television was tuned to ESPN, and Steve Phillips, the former Mets general manager who had criticized Mota for hitting Piazza, now seemed to be siding with him. Phillips said that if Fielder had a problem with Mota, he should have settled it on the field.

“Exactly,” Mota shouted, pointing at the television and perhaps another confrontation down the road.

You have to be on something serious to start a fight at Dodger Stadium...

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