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Prince Fielder was a big presence from his earliest baseball days

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I’m still torn about the Prince Fielder news, four days later. I had hoped he was heading to Washington to give the Nationals a big bat — and no doubt, a big man — in the lineup for 2012.

On the other hand, I am a Tigers fan, and there is something right about Prince returning to the site of his dad’s biggest moments in baseball. Prince Fielder grew up in Detroit, a city that treasures its baseball heroes — even the flawed ones — and will welcome Cecil’s son with open arms.

I can hear some wag saying, “Those arms will have to be wide open.” Because Prince Fielder is a big man. His father was a big man, although Cecil carried more weight in his gut, and Prince is just . . . big.

Mike Rizzo reportedly was prepared to give Prince a six-year contract to play first base. The Tigers gave him nine years to play first base — and told Miguel Cabrera to move to third — because they have the option of someday playing Prince at DH if his knees give out from years of supporting a big body. That’s a nice option to have. I don’t think Rizzo made the wrong decision, much as I would have enjoyed seeing Prince wearing the curly W.

Insert your own curly-fries joke here. I won’t. I heard a lot of talk this week about how Fielder is destined to be a fat man. I don’t understand that assumption. I don’t expect him to become a wraith, nor do I expect him to change much from what he is right now: a big man. He may be returning home, but he’s not his father, and it’s unfair to assume that he is.

Prince was big from the start. I saw him during his Little League years. I helped coach a team of very young kids — maybe 7 and 8 years old, it’s hard to remember now. They liked to find flowers in the outfield and watch planes flying overheard — both the boys and the girls — often during the games. They were a lot of fun.

One day, several fields over, I saw a large fellow standing in the infield. I assumed he was a coach until the grapevine reached our field: He was Cecil Fielder’s son. He was maybe 9 years old, and he towered over everyone on the field. He would have towered over me — admittedly not an achievement, but still.

I broke my arm one rainy day that season, guiding those little kids who called me “Mrs. Coach Hamilton.” (How I loved that name, shrieked by kids wanting to know who brought treats, and what the treats were.) I wish I could tell you that Prince scooped me up and carried me to safety, because that would be a better story, but after the dads told me to shake it off, one of the mothers — an X-ray tech — told me the arm was broken and to drive to Bon Secours Hospital. (I was literally covered with mud from head to toe from the fall; the nurses wouldn’t let me sit down until they found a plastic wheelchair that could be hosed off later — ah, the compassion!)

Prince spent his childhood as a giant among Little Leaguers and hanging out in the Tigers’ locker room, where it must have seemed to visitors that Detroit was violating the roster limit. When he was a little older, he was taking batting practice at Tiger Stadium and watching his dad’s star rise.

How big (no pun intended) was Cecil in Detroit? When I worked at the Free Press, we wanted to get a photo of the biggest stars from each of Detroit’s teams in one place. Normally, that would be a nightmare to arrange. We set it up for Tiger Stadium, and Joe Dumars, Barry Sanders and Steve Yzerman all agreed to come — because they wanted to meet Cecil. I’ve still got a copy of that photo somewhere.

I would have shown that to Prince if he had come to Washington; he might even have remembered it. He would have hit a lot of dingers here and made a big impact at Nats Park, and in Washington, and folks here would have loved him. Alas, the numbers didn’t work out. No matter what Nats fans think about his weight, now or future, that’s their loss.

For Tracee Hamilton’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/hamilton.

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