VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Even after hitting 319 home runs during an All-Star career, Cecil Fielder is virtually unknown to students at the Elite Development Invitational.Well, they do know Fielder, just not for his 13-year big league career."They know who I am because they call me Prince Fielder's father!" the
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Even after hitting 319 home runs during an All-Star career, Cecil Fielder is virtually unknown to students at the Elite Development Invitational.
Well, they do know Fielder, just not for his 13-year big league career.
"They know who I am because they call me Prince Fielder's father!" the older Fielder laughed on Monday. "They ask me, 'Are you really Prince Fielder's father?' And I say, 'I hope so!'"
Fielder is spending this week working as a coach for the EDI -- a two-week-long camp attended primarily by African-American players -- in collaboration with MLBPA and USA Baseball. This marks the first time the three-time All-Star has done youth work with Major League Baseball.
The 1996 World Series champion is joined by Eric Davis, Dmitri Young, Tye Waller, Robert Sasser and Ron Jackson as hitting coaches at Historic Dodgertown.
"The kids are wanting that knowledge and they're wanting to be better," Fielder said. "As an ex-player, and now as someone that's teaching the game of baseball, getting the information we've been getting from the professional guys to the kids is important, and I've had a good time with it."
For older players and students of the game, walking through Dodgertown and spotting the references to trailblazers, including Jackie Robinson, is a history lesson in itself. Ex-players like Fielder can stress the importance of Robinson breaking the color barrier or the Dodgers employing four of the first nine African-American players.
When working with children primarily in the 13-15 age group, however, those meaningful moments in history can be lost at first.
"They might be a little too young, but they've got YouTube and everything else going for themselves to find out about it," Fielder said. "Jackie Robinson, [former Dodgers infielder] Jim Gilliam and a whole bunch of folks who walked through Dodgertown. They've got some homework to do themselves, but I think they've done some homework just standing on campus."
Former White Sox and Mets manager Jerry Manuel, now serving as an MLB youth consultant, echoed the All-Star's sentiments. Manuel is no stranger to breaking new ground in the sport, having joined Kenny Williams as the first black manager/general manager duo in the 2000s with the White Sox.
Though he takes pride in the efforts made by current big leaguers to get African-American youth involved in the sport, specifically citing Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson, Manuel believes there's still much more to be done.
"We have some momentum, but we've yet to have a movement," Manuel said. "In order to have that movement, we need to take that into the offseason with their validation and time and resources to help this become a movement. The foundation is in place, and we're equipped to do a number of things with the types of instructors we have."
Fielder, who is joined by Tom Gordon as coaches who have had children make it to the big leagues, sees events like the Elite Development Invitational as steps in the right direction.
"Being here at this event, you do see that there is talent around to fill those gaps," Fielder said. "That's why this youth push is so important, because there are athletes, there are kids that can play the game. You just need to get them there."
Jake Elman is a contributor to MLB.com based in Vero Beach.