Daniel Fields now patrols the same outfield where he used to shag fly balls in 2002 as a youth. His father, Bruce, was a former Mud Hen and then a coach and manager for the team. Blade/Amy E. Voigt
Even though Daniel Fields is in his first season on the Mud Hens roster, he has some unique memories of the team — as well as Fifth Third Field.
“Every once in a while, when I’m driving to the stadium, memories will pop into my head,” Fields said. “Every once in a while, when I’m on the field, those memories come back too.
“And they’re great memories. I remember riding around on the little scooters they used to have in the clubhouse. I remember being on the field, shagging fly balls. It was a lot of fun.”
Of course, Fields should be a familiar name to longtime Mud Hens fans: His father, Bruce, played for the team in 1987, then was a coach here in 1993-94 before serving as Toledo’s manager in 2001, the final season at Skeldon Stadium, as well as in 2002, the team’s first at Fifth Third Field.
Daniel Fields said having a father who played and then coached professionally was an advantage in that, when the young outfielder signed with the Tigers after being drafted in 2009, he knew what to expect.
“I got to see pro players go about their business, and you can definitely learn from that,” he said. “When I signed and started playing, I knew what to expect, and I think that was a huge advantage.”
Fields said his father also was a sounding board early in his pro career.
“He’s been there every step of the way, from when I first signed on,” Fields said. “Early on in my career, he and I would talk every day. Now it’s ‘only’ every two or three days.
“He’s always there to help, and I definitely appreciate him being there.”
Fields saw his career begin with a challenge: Instead of sending him to a short-season or Low Class A team, which is typical, in 2010, Detroit had Fields begin his career at High Class A Lakeland as a 19-year-old.
“I certainly wasn’t expecting that,” said Fields, now 23. “I didn’t play in the season I was signed, and in spring training my first year [the Tigers] moved me from shortstop to the outfield.
“I was thinking I would go to West Michigan, but the team told me I would stay in spring training to work on outfield stuff. I was a little disappointed, but I kept working hard. Then I got a call to go across the street and play with Lakeland. … It was a challenge, especially at first, but I had to grind through that season.”
Fields managed to keep his head above water and bat .240 with eight homers and 47 RBIs in 2010. When he returned to Lakeland in 2011, the numbers dropped to .220 with eight homers and 46 RBIs in 15 more games.
“Those first two seasons, I learned how to deal with failure,” Fields said. “I know now that if you struggle for a day, it’s not the end of the world. You need to make the adjustments to get through it.
“The years after that, I started to play better because I didn’t get down on myself if I struggled.”
Fields returned to Lakeland in 2012 and hit .266 to earn a promotion to Erie. Last year he spent the entire season with the SeaWolves and had his most productive year offensively, batting .284 with 10 homers and 58 RBIs, all career highs.
He also stole 24 bases last season, and Fields credited Gene Roof, the former Mud Hens manager who now is Detroit’s baserunning coordinator, for that improvement.
“We talked about a lot of things, and one of them was not worrying about getting picked off,” Fields said. “When you want to run, you just have to put your head down and run.
“I am definitely a lot more aggressive running now than I was when I got started.”
Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish has had Fields for just 39 games this season but believes there is a possibility for big things from the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Detroit native.
“He’s young, and he’s a work in progress,” Parrish said. “He’s got a big, strong frame, and he’s learning how to use it. As a hitter, he’s not fully developed yet.”
Fields’ first season as a player in Toledo started slowly, as he hit just .169 in April.
Then the left-handed hitter batted .321 in his first 13 games in May — only to break a bone in his right hand when he was hit by a pitch.
“I struggled the first month, but I was working on some things,” Fields said. “Then I started out really hot in May — and I got hit by that pitch, and I broke my hand.
“I went down to Lakeland and worked on my swing, making a few more adjustments. I feel some of the adjustments I have made are going to work.”
AT THE PLATE with Daniel Fields
■ Position: Outfielder.
■ Height/Weight: 6-2/215.
■ Hometown: Detroit.
■ Age: 23.
■ Family: Single.
■ Nickname: D or D-Fields.
■ Favorite way to spend time away from the field: I like to relax by watching a good movie.
■ Baseball player you admired growing up: Ken Griffey, Jr.
■ Favorite sport other than baseball: I am a huge college football fan. I’ve been a Michigan State fan my entire life because my mom went to Michigan State and my dad grew up in Lansing, Mich.
■ Favorite music: I like rap and R&B. Drake is one of my favorite artists.
■ Favorite meal: Steak. You can’t go wrong with steak.
■ Favorite beverage: AriZona Fruit Punch
■ Favorite movie: Bad Boys II
■ Favorite TV show: 24
■ Do you have a Twitter account? DFields_23
■ Person you most admire: My father, Bruce. His dad passed away at a young age, and he picked up baseball late, yet he made it to the big leagues. It’s a pretty good story.
■ If you could meet any person, who would it be? Barack Obama. I would just sit and listen to him.
■ Top sports moment: When we clinched a playoff spot in Double-A Erie. That was a lot of fun.
■ Baseball superstitions: No. I just strap it on and go play.
■ Something nobody knows about you: I could sit and play Clash of Clans on my iPad for hours.