Results, not image, matter to Fields
Mariners' Draft pick gets the job done in his own inimitable style
OMAHA -- Josh Fields certainly isn't image conscious. He does, however, project quite an image.
When the Georgia closer, as likable and laid back a fellow that's ever participated in the College World Series, trotted in from the bullpen on Monday night to wrap up a 4-3 victory over Stanford, it was difficult not to notice the shagadelic, floppy hairdo protruding from beneath his cap. Couple that with several days worth of stubble, and Fields looked more like he was ready to hit the surf than take the mound.
But he proceeded to dispatch the Cardinal with only some minor difficulty, collecting his 17th save in 17 tries this season. All the while, the hard-throwing right-hander, whom the Mariners chose with the 20th pick in the First-Year Player Draft, presented quite the picture, one that would be considered eccentric in some circles yet one clearly befitting the image that has long been associated with that of "the closer."
Relievers who punctuate baseball games have often marched to their own beat, and Fields is no different. Though he says he'd cut his hair when and if the Mariners ask, there's a part of him that seems to draw on his locks for, if nothing else, security. This would-be Samson won't be blinded, though, knowing full well that image isn't everything, despite what we've been told. All that matters are results.
"I'm really not sure what Seattle's policy is," Fields said. "Teams like Boston and maybe the Brewers have some guys with some real crazy stuff. The Yankees and the Braves like you to keep your hair a certain length. So I'm not sure if they are going to ask me to cut it short.
"I've had this hairdo for several years, and I hope to stick with it. It's part of me. I'll abide by the rules, but I've kept it long since the beginning of my sophomore year. I've trimmed it a little now and then, but overall, I've kept it out there. I feel like it gives me an edge. It's not so much intimidation as it provides comfort and confidence for me."
So the hair will stay until, at least, the Bulldogs are finished with the CWS. They don't play again until Friday and could be here until as late as June 25. After that, Fields can begin talking with the Mariners about what it will take for him to sign, where he will go and what will be expected of him in terms of grooming.
Fields wasn't too concerned about any of it as he sat on the podium in the bowels of Rosenblatt Stadium on Monday night, his shoulder and elbow wrapped in ice. He had heard about Seattle dismissing general manager Bill Bavasi earlier in the day but said that he didn't have any idea how that would affect negotiations with the club. He hasn't had any conversations with the Mariners to date.
But here are a few facts that Fields is likely to have his representatives present to the Seattle front office when he does sit down at the negotiating table. He is tied for second nationally in saves, one behind UC-Irvine's Eric Pettis. He has a 0.50 ERA in his 17 save opportunities this season, a span of 18 innings.
Fields' save on Monday was the 40th of his career, extending his own school and Southeastern Conference record. He is one of only seven pitchers to ever record 40 saves and is one shy of tying former Texas closer Huston Street for sixth place on the NCAA's all-time Division I saves list.
He's also the biggest reason why the Bulldogs are 35-0 when leading after eight innings. Still, Fields isn't automatic. He's had a few hiccups in each of his first two CWS appearances this season, putting men on against Stanford and top-seeded Miami in Saturday night's opener. But he lived in the mid-to-high 90s with his fastball on Monday night, finally inducing a game-ending double play out of Colin Walsh.
Fields pumped his fist and bounded off the mound, pointing at shortstop Gordon Beckham, whom the White Sox selected with the eighth overall pick in the Draft, the man who initiated the 6-4-3 twin killing.
"I felt like my mechanics were a little better tonight," Fields said. "I just needed to get my tempo down. And once they hit it to Gordon, there's no one else I would have wanted them to hit it to."
Though Fields will continue to be one of the public faces of this team -- how could he not? -- through the remainder of the CWS, he points out quickly and adamantly that this is a special group and that he doesn't deserve credit or attention above anyone else.
"I don't want to be one of those guys who big leagues anybody, that's what we call it," he said. "These guys are my best friends. I love all these guys, and I'm still a college baseball player. Anyone that gets drafted isn't a Major League player yet. There's no point thinking like that, because you haven't done anything yet."
At some point, though, Fields figures to be in the Major Leagues, perhaps as soon as this summer. Recent Draft history shows this to be possible. It's just a matter of if he'll be shorn before he gets there.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.