Through it all
Prince tried to stay focused on reaching the majors. "I was worried about
him," says Gwynn. "He was a wreck. He could easily have gone the other
way, but somehow he channeled all those emotions positively into baseball. You
should have seen him in the weight room--he was an animal." In August 2005
Prince was hitting .291 with 28 homers at Triple A Nashville when Milwaukee
called him up. He has never looked back. "All that stuff that happened, it
went away when I was on the field," says Prince. "Out there everything
was easy. I just got to play baseball every day and not think about that other
stuff. And it's kind of the same way now."
Of course the
father has regrets. He wishes that he had handled the divorce differently, that
he was smarter with some of his business deals. But he will not apologize for
the gambling. "How many athletes do you know who go to Las Vegas?" he
asks. "It was never a problem. Never." And he will not apologize for
taking a cut of his son's signing bonus. "Any other agent would have gotten
five percent, and it wouldn't have been a big deal," he says. "So
what's the problem?"
He refuses to
divulge how much he still owes, saying only, "Yes, I have debts, and I'm
going to take care of them over time. I'll make everything right." He
thinks his latest venture--he and Evander Holyfield are partners in a broadband
network, the Black Family Channel, which recently merged with the Gospel Music
Channel--will be a big success. He is on good terms with his ex-wife, who has
remarried and lives in Houston. He also tried last summer to break the two-year
silence that existed between him and Prince. After sitting in the stands at a
Brewers-Braves game in Atlanta, Cecil and his wife and two kids lingered
outside the visitors' clubhouse, waiting for Prince. Cecil spotted Prince's
wife, Chanel, and their two children, Jadyn and Haven. It was the first time
Cecil had seen his grandsons, whose names are tattooed on his left arm. But
Cecil never saw Prince that night. A clubhouse attendant had notified Prince
that his father was outside; minutes later a security guard asked Cecil to
leave the area.
The father says he
won't try to reach out to his son again soon. "Look, I'm not going to go
chasing after him," he says. "I've got my own thing. And he's at a
stage where he wants to be Prince. That's cool, that's not a bad gig, but if
you're Prince, you can't downplay the fact that I was ..."--he corrects
himself--"I am your father, and I was in the game before you were. You got
to know that without me kind of setting the table, it might have turned out
different for you. I just don't think he sees that right now. Of course I'm
proud of him and all that he's done. He's worked so hard. He's on his way. But
he's also got to grow up and understand that at the end of the day, no matter
what, I'm still his father."
When Prince is
asked if he often wonders how his father is doing, he says, "I don't really
worry about it. I got a season to play. I got my own career. I got my own
kids." Will there be a time when he's ready to speak to his father again?
"I don't know," he says. "We'll see. If anything, probably not
until my career is over."
After living most
of his life as Big Daddy's big kid, it's clear that Prince is ready to be his
own man. "He wishes that the shadow would go away," says Chanel.
"I've always been getting compared, which is fine, but--not to say there's
anything wrong with my dad--I'm a much different player. I'm a different
person. Hopefully people see that."
Prince wants to be
known for more than belting gargantuan home runs, for more than being the
12-year-old who drove a ball into the upper deck at Tiger Stadium during
batting practice. His father was a career .255 hitter who never batted higher
than .277 in his 13-year, 319-home run career. He was an all-or-nothing
slugger, strikeout-prone, clumsy with the glove. Prince, who was batting .290
through Sunday and continues to improve defensively, was a .297 hitter over
four years in the minors. Scouts believe that he could ultimately become that
rare type of player, like Albert Pujols or Manny Ramirez, who perennially bats
above .300 with 35 or more homers.
"He's a very
disciplined hitter--he's not always trying to hit home runs," says Mets
closer Billy Wagner. "He may have some strikeouts, but he swings at good
pitches. He can hit lefties and righties. He doesn't give in any to either one.
He's disciplined about the strike zone. He knows his pitch, he recognizes it
and puts a good swing on it."
Even though the
Brewers often use the words teddy bear in describing Prince, he is--unlike his
mild-mannered father--an unbridled, fiery player on the field. Prince has
leveled San Francisco Giants catcher Todd Greene in a home-plate collision and
been chastised by the Los Angeles Dodgers' Jeff Kent for going too hard into
second base. On May 6 against the Pirates, a day after he was hit in the head
with a pitch from Pittsburgh reliever Matt Capps, Prince responded by homering
twice in the early innings. Then, after scoring the go-ahead run with Capps on
the mound, he jumped up and down on home plate, pumped his fist and, facing the
pitcher, hollered like a linebacker after a sack. Pirates catcher Ryan Doumit
called Prince's reaction "bush league." Replied Fielder, "Freedom