Prince Fielder, The Running Man

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Hurtling his thick slab of mass through space, with a seemingly pathological disregard for the laws of angular momentum, the spectacle of Prince Fielder running is the physical embodiment of everything that is good and true about baseball. Like children who play without the specter of a payday and who, in the purity of their love for the game run so hard as to become a parody of running, so too does Prince Fielder join them in their fight against the laws of classical mechanics.

There is here none of the blinding precision of Ichiro, perfect in his own right, a cat trained on the teasing red blob of a quivering laser. Instead, Fielder is a galloping labrador, tongue flapping in the wind, all paws and desire, desperate for just one more taste of that tennis ball.

He runs like a cartoon, starting out so hindered by the inertia of his mass that his feet seem to flail beneath him helplessly. He pumps his arms, assisting in the heroic struggle to overcome the resistance of his bulk to acquiesce to motion. As with a train pulling out of the station, straining through those initial lurches and groans, Isaac Newton’s First Law of Motion plays out in spectacular form every time Fielder begins to run.

The run is slow at first, but Fielder persists. His velocity is changing. He’s going to go faster. The force he exerts is enormous as he accelerates his mass, his flesh rippling as his frame absorbs the shock of each beefy footfall.

Faster still he goes, his feet pitter-pattering through the clay. He tries to lean in hard towards the pitcher’s mound, to counteract the centripetal force that’s fighting his decision to turn the corner. He seems to enjoy it, but the glee I feel when he rounds first is pure, and it is because of witnessing what I believed to be an impossibility: that a man that size, with that much speed, could do anything but run straight.

With second in his sights, the run becomes wild. He doesn’t know how to slide, really, but it doesn’t matter. Like a wrecking ball or an amorous ungulate, he plunges, dives, crashes. It’s the only way he’ll stop. Once maximum Fielder Velocity is attained, there’s no hope for a stand-up double. He’s going in face-first, pleading to the friction of his body in the dirt, with his fingers curled around the base, that he’ll stop moving. It’s magnificent.

Baseball is an unlikely game. Grown men, clad in fancy pajamas and sensible footwear, spend six months a year trying to return from whence they came; the tease of the at-bat, the promise of home. It’s a child’s game. It’s absurd. It’s religion for atheists. Those of us who love it, love it with the chest-clutching, knee-buckling intensity of the sweatiest tent revival. It does not make sense. It is better that way.

And if Prince Fielder running makes no fucking sense, Prince Fielder running is also a thing of beauty. To watch him desperately propel his hulking form through space, to see him almost trip on his helmet, having flown off at such an angle as to threaten his reckless gait, to witness the way he flops onto the ground, wrapping his arms around the base with the passion of Isolde -- that is baseball at its rawest and most glorious. And to watch Prince Fielder steal a base is to see the face of the recalcitrant baseball gods.

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