Fields handling demotion with class
Third baseman looks ahead after missing Spring Training cut
CHICAGO -- The words coming from Josh Fields in late March were exactly what one would expect from this classy, hard-working young man, even in the face of minor adversity.
Fields had just been advised of his return to Triple-A Charlotte for the start of the 2008 campaign, with his 23 home runs and 67 RBIs sitting prominently on his White Sox resume from last season. While Fields admitted that a return to the Minor Leagues was tough, he also said it was easier to take knowing that a Gold Glove-caliber defensive player and a Silver Slugger in Joe Crede was resuming his post as the team's third baseman. Fields would go down and perform as well as he expected at the big league level.
Then, Fields began the Triple-A season without a hit in his first eight at-bats, a run that also included six strikeouts. The 25-year-old quickly realized that the adjustment period would be tougher than he had originally expected.
"Getting sent down, it didn't sit all too well at the beginning, and I tried to play it off better than it actually was," Fields told MLB.com by cellphone on Thursday, an off-day for Charlotte. "It was real tough, especially since I felt like I did everything I could, and I should have made the team.
"Regardless of how I felt, I realized I had to come down and play hard, no matter where I play. I can't feel sorry for myself. My goal is to help Charlotte win, and I have to have faith in the front office that they have a plan for me."
Since that rough start, Fields has lived by these particular words. Through Thursday, he was hitting .294 against International League competition, with two home runs and 11 RBIs. His legs feel stronger than last year, as shown by his three stolen bases in three attempts.
Yet no big league job presently awaits Fields with the White Sox. It's not a situation that has made Fields downright angry, not when he looks at Crede standing out as first-month American League Most Valuable Player candidate, and Carlos Quentin, his good friend, anchoring left field for Chicago both offensively and defensively.
Just a hint of frustration does exist in Fields' voice, along with the slightest touch of concern for his future. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen would expect nothing less from one of the top young players in the organization.
"Oh, my god -- I tip my hat to him," said Guillen of Fields handling his temporary demotion to Charlotte. "If Josh Fields don't feel sick to his stomach and he don't feel the hate or disappointment, then I would be disappointed. [General manager] Kenny Williams would be disappointed.
"We understand and appreciate as a person the way he feels. If he don't feel anything, then he don't have any feeling for baseball. He's man enough to admit it, and we are men enough to know. We don't want to do it, but this is part of the game."
Speaking hours before Thursday's series finale between the White Sox and Yankees, Guillen pointed out that he had recently spoken of the difficulty he had in sending down Fields during an extended radio appearance earlier in the day. Guillen added that Fields will be in the Majors, with an interesting side note.
"I don't know what position or when or how," Guillen said. "He should be in the big leagues. Unfortunately, we don't have a space for him to play."
That slight concern mentioned earlier involving Fields comes from the fact the he might have been able to help the 2008 White Sox in a spot other than third base. He made 21 starts in left field last year and felt fairly comfortable at the position by the end of the campaign.
It was at that point that Guillen and bench coach Joey Cora told Fields of the left-field experiment coming to an end, with Fields' focus turning strictly to third base. Fields provides the lone true backup to Crede in case something happens to the veteran incumbent.
Fields also figures to step into the starting role if Crede leaves Chicago after the 2008 campaign via free agency. That far-ranging scenario is something Fields doesn't remotely entertain just one month into the current campaign.
In fact, Fields admits that he has made a conscious effort not to follow the parent club, honing his attention in on a fairly talented and unified Charlotte squad. Fields pointed out teammates such as Lance Broadway, Wes Whisler, Ehren Wasserman and DeWayne Wise as early standouts for the Knights.
Being in Charlotte with Jerry Owens, another friend who is going through the same basic situation as Fields, has made a difference for the third baseman.
"Right now, I've done a good job of blocking all of that other stuff out to focus on playing in Charlotte," Fields said. "In the back of my mind, I hope the decisions they are making are in their best interest but also have my best interest in mind.
"My main thing is that I hope whatever vision the White Sox have of the future hopefully involves me, and me in Chicago."
For the short term, Fields will gear up for a weekend home series against Durham and help propel his second-place Knights with a .500 record toward the top of the division. The difficulty of not breaking camp with the White Sox has passed for Fields.
The feeling that he truly belongs with the White Sox has not, will not and should not.
"Joe is an unbelievable player, and he's showing that here at the beginning of season, but I'm the kind of person where it doesn't matter where I play," Fields said. "I feel I can help the White Sox lineup at some position.
"Toward the end of Spring Training, when I knew there hadn't been any moves, it was setting in my head I could possibly go back do Charlotte. I always was preparing to play in Chicago, and it hurt my feelings. I felt like I deserved a shot.
"But it goes on. I wouldn't think the White Sox intention would be to leave me in Triple-A and let the learning curve drop."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.