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Guest Columnist Dan Lovallo recalls his time with "Big Daddy." Cecil Fielder.

POSTED April 15, 2011
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

BIG DADDY

Recently, I noted with more than a passing interest, that the ownership group for the Torrington Titans had hired former big leaguer Cecil Fielder to serve on an advisory board for the franchise. “Big Daddy” and I were part of the 1983 Kinston Blue Jays.

It doesn’t seem possible nearly three decades has passed, but time does fly. My ambition was to broadcast major league baseball. I was told, just like the ballplayer, it was best to start in the minor leagues. The Kinston, NC-based Carolina League franchise was in the market for someone to broadcast their games and drive the team bus. Coincidentally, I had some experience in both fields. I applied for the position and was hired by the team owner, retired United Airlines pilot and World War II veteran Raymond Kuhlman.

Off I went to Kinston, in the spring of 1983, to broadcast the games for the Toronto Blue Jays single-A affiliate and drive the team bus. It was there I met Fielder and the rest of the Blue Jays farmhands, including David Wells and Mike Sharperson, who also carved out successful big league careers, and future NFL quarterback Jay Schroeder. The manager was former Minnesota Twins infielder Ron Clark and his coach was former Houston Astros outfielder JJ Cannon. The league was dominated by future big league stars that year. Dwight Gooden, Lenny Dykstra and Dave Magaden were among those on the Mets farm club. Mike Greenwell played for the Red Sox affiliate. Scouts told me there was an ample abundance of talent throughout the circuit.

Fielder was one of the Blue Jays top prospects. Bulky with prodigious power and an appetite to match, he really could hit a baseball a country mile. There was one home run in particular that Fielder hit. I am sure townspeople still talk about it. The Blue Jays played their games at Grainger Stadium. Beyond the left centerfield wall was an old warehouse. One night, Fielder launched an aerial shot, that left the ballpark in a nano second, and landed on the back slope of the warehouse. We estimated that the ball traveled nearly 500 feet.

I also remember Fielder’s ravenous appetite. Back then - for that matter, even today - minor league ballplayers had to be judicious with their meal money. They were only given per day, a mere pittance even in 1983. Fielder was a master at stretching his dollar. When I wheeled into a town, he would be one of the first off the bus, sauntering toward the nearest restaurant with the all you could eat salad bar. Invariably, after I had parked the bus and headed toward the eatery, Cecil would be seated, working on his third helping, piled higher than Mt. Everest.

Fielder had a great personality. He could sell an air conditioner to an Eskimo, as the saying goes. One of the first pieces of advice I received from team owner Mr. Kuhlman (We were instructed by his wife, Ruth, to always address him as Mr. Kuhlman.) was, “Dan, never let a player borrow your car. They will ask you, but never let them borrow it. You will leave yourself open to trouble.” Sure enough, Cecil asked to borrow my brand new 1983 Toyota Tercel. He said he had to take his wife to the doctor. How could I say no? Fortunately, there were no problems, but after a firm lecture from Mr. Kuhlman, no ballplayer ever drove my car again, although I was known to give a few a ride home.

Fielder went on to a very successful career, most notably with the Blue Jays and Tigers, where he led the American League for three straight seasons in RBI and two straight years in home runs, including 51 in 1990. In all, he slugged 319 career home runs and knocked in 1008 RBI. He even won a World Series ring with the 1996 New York Yankees.

A couple of years ago, I read where he had a falling out with his son Prince, another successful big league ballplayer. I hope they settle their differences. Life is too short, as evidenced by the fact it seems like only yesterday, we traveling the back roads of the Carolina League together. Meanwhile, the Torrington Titans have made a good move by bringing Fielder on board. He will provide the ballplayers with perspective. He might even share the story of the night, he launched a baseball, that landed on the back slope of a warehouse building, in a far away southern town.

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