New Detroit coach Bruce Fields won three batting titles in the minors.
DUANE BURLESON / AP Enlarge
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - After spending more than 20 years in Detroit's minor league system as a player, coach and manager, Bruce Fields is happy to finally be in the majors as the Tigers' hitting coach.
However, he faces a daunting challenge.
Fields is Detroit's sixth hitting coach in six seasons. And the Tigers scored 52 fewer runs than any other team in baseball last season, then dropped six hitters in the off-season who combined to drive in nearly half the 575 runs they did score.
“I welcome the challenge and I accept it,” Fields said yesterday before the Tigers' 10-3 spring-training loss to the Cleveland Indians at Chain O'Lakes Park. “Everyone knows the numbers. We have to get better. I have to help them get better. I think I can give these guys some ideas that will help them become better hitters.”
The 42-year-old Fields, who guided the Triple-A Mud Hens to their first playoff appearance in 18 years last season, interviewed for Detroit's managerial job in October, but that position went to his former teammate, Alan Trammell.
One of Trammell's first hires was Fields, a player in the Tigers' farm system for 10 of his 14 years in professional baseball. He had 43 at-bats with the Tigers in 1986, then played in 42 games with the Seattle Mariners in 1988 and 1989.
Fields also has coached or managed in the Tigers' farm system for 11 seasons. In eight years as a manager, he led his teams to five titles and had an overall record of 548-442, a .554 winning percentage.
“It's a good feeling to get to the majors because, obviously, I've spent a lot of time in the minor leagues,” he said. “That's pretty much where all my previous experience was until now. So to get an opportunity to come up here and work with a great staff at the major league level is pretty nice.”
Fields knows a thing or two about hitting. He was a .295 career hitter in the minors and won three batting titles. He captured two of those in Triple-A, leading the American Association with a .368 average in 1986 and the Pacific Coast League with a .351 mark in 1989. He also topped the Double-A Southern League with a .323 average in 1985.
“I think Bruce is very well-suited for the job,” said Tigers third baseman Eric Munson, who played for Fields at Single-A West Michigan in 1999 and again at Toledo last season. “When he played, he was a good hitter and won a couple of minor league batting championships. I think he can evaluate players pretty well and translate very well. He's a good fit.”
Fields has some theories about hitting. He believes in using the whole field. He believes in having a plan. And he believes in being aggressive, but only with pitches a batter can hit hard.
“I'm pretty excited with everything that's going on here, but I know I have a job to do,” he said. “It's to work with the hitters and try to get them focused and make sure their swing mechanics are sound and they're prepared in every way to succeed.”
Fields has worked with numerous players on the Tigers' roster in the minor leagues, so that should make the transition smoother for Detroit's hitters. He served as Bobby Higginson's hitting coach at Toledo in 1994.
“I have a pretty good relationship with most of the players,” Fields said. “And when you have a relationship with someone, they trust you and feel good about working with you.”
“He knows my swing inside out, so I'm glad to have him on board,” said catcher Brandon Inge, who was the Mud Hens' Opening Day catcher last year before being promoted to Detroit in late April. “He's a heck of a coach.”
The Mud Hens experienced a historic season under Fields a year ago. They drew a franchise-record 547,204 fans in their inaugural campaign at Fifth Third Field, captured the International League's West Division with an 81-63 record and advanced to postseason play for first time since 1984.
“It was a wonderful season,” Fields said. “A lot of good things happened in that new ballpark and the energy that came from that was unbelievable. Just the way things unfolded was awesome. The season went down to the wire and we clinched the division late in the year and then we made the playoffs for the first time in a long time.
“Even though we didn't play well in the playoffs, it was still a magical year. To this day, I get people from Toledo thanking me as if I had something to do with it. I didn't do anything. I didn't play. I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.”