LAKELAND — Not even Prince Fielder could wait for a sneak preview.
Fielder, one of baseball's fiercest sluggers, has Motor City fans manic since signing a nine-year, $214 million deal with the Tigers last month.
With Tigertown envisioning what kind of video-game like numbers he and Miguel Cabrera could rack up hitting back-to-back, Fielder, 27, recently experimented in the virtual world, trading himself in the video game MLB 2011 from the Brewers to Detroit while playing with sons Jadyn and Haven.
"It was pretty cool," Fielder said. "On paper, it looks great. … Hopefully, it goes like I have planned in real life."
It became more real for Fielder on Monday, when he reported to Tigers camp just before 9 a.m., three days before position players are due. With his two young boys in tow, Fielder was excitedly greeted by his new teammates before putting on a show. He and Cabrera ripped long balls in batting practice on a back field, with Tigers great Willie Horton recalling how a teenage Prince — son of former Detroit home run king Cecil Fielder — completed the same feat while in high school.
"He's had a great career so far and I think what he brings to our organization, it can take us to another level," Horton said. "He's going to leave a big imprint on this game before he's finished. Hopefully we can bring a World Series home."
Fielder, who averaged 40 homers the past five seasons with the Brewers, fueled even higher expectations for a Detroit club that reached the ALCS last year. Cabrera, the reigning batting champion and six-time All-Star, accepted the challenge of moving back to third base to make room for Fielder at first.
"All I know is I'm excited," Cabrera said. "We'll see what happens. We have to do it first."
Fielder combined with National League MVP Ryan Braun for a potent one-two punch and could do the same cleaning up behind Cabrera.
"Whenever you see an MVP-type player hitting in front of you, it's always motivation, because you see greatness every night," Fielder said. "I'm sure Miguel's going to do the same thing. I'm looking forward to it."
Fielder appeared to fit in quickly, with he and Cabrera seemingly attached at the hip. Reigning AL Cy Young and MVP Justin Verlander was quick to walk across the room to welcome him, and backup catcher Gerald Laird, whose locker is positioned next to Fielder and a couple away from Cabrera, joked he'd collect any money left on the floor.
"I'll make sure I keep all my change in my pocket," Fielder said, smiling.
Fielder showed his serious side, too, saying he wanted to get right to work, appearing to want to put the free agent spotlight behind him.
But as manager Jim Leyland said, "When a guy like that shows up, guys obviously take notice."
"I know I grew up around Tiger Stadium and some of the fans," Fielder said. "But I didn't think they'd remember me that much. But seeing that they do, it's pretty awesome. I'm glad I'm part of it."