Is Prince Fielder the Next Anthony Bourdain?

Prince Fielder is using his early retirement to do something he has always wanted to do.

Everybody wants to be Anthony Bourdain. Traveling the world, eating delicious food, hanging out with celebrities, drinking copiously: What glutton doesn’t dream of that lifestyle? When I first started watching No Reservations, part of me wanted to be Bourdain. And, it appears, the home-run-slugging retired baseball star Prince Fielder watched Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, No Reservations, and the rest of the food TV lineup and felt the same way.

We both got modified versions of our wish. I became a newspaper food writer, a job better-suited to those of us with the public speaking skills of a toaster oven, and Prince Fielder has now become host of Fielder’s Choice, a streaming show that travels to restaurants across America, but on a shoestring budget and apparently relying on restaurateur freebies.

After retiring early for health reasons, Fielder began chatting up a possible TV gig in interviews.

“I always wanted to do a food show,” he told ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick. The plan, he said, was that it would “be streaming on Netflix and Hulu.”

But then things went silent. Every few months, I searched Google for news. It’s a sign of how poorly Fielder’s Choice has been marketed that I didn’t find it until four months after it was added to Amazon Prime, where it streams free for Prime members. (Netflix and Hulu are not onboard.) Another sign of the show’s low profile: At the time of this writing, not a single Amazon customer has written a review. Currently, searching “Prince Fielder” on the Amazon homepage brings up a list of trading cards, bobbleheads, and shirseys. Fielder’s Choice Food Show, to give the program its full formal title, is the seventh result.

There’s really no introduction to the show at all. There’s no opening speech to explain what’s happening, no voiceover announcing the premise of Fielder’s Choice Food Show. In fact, the intro credits sequence doesn’t give the show’s name or host – it’s a montage of every special guest star from both current and future seasons, a diverse range that includes such unlikely-to-appear-together names as Chazz Palminteri, Ken Griffey Jr., and one of the kids on the couch in How I Met Your Mother.

So here’s the premise. At the beginning of each of the six episodes, we see a restaurant in either New York City, Las Vegas or suburban Orlando. (Is there another kind of Orlando?) Prince and Chanel Fielder arrive and meet their special guest or guests, chat with the chef, and sit down to a multicourse meal. During the meal, Prince and Chanel interview their guests, and at the end, everyone decides which of the dishes they’ve tried will win a crystal “Fielder’s Choice” trophy. (The trophy is completely different in Vegas, a twist that remains mysterious.)

Dexter Fowler, Prince Fielder, Tony Gwynn Jr., and Chanel Fielder at Lindo Michoacán in Las Vegas. (Fielder’s Choice Food Show, 2017)

There’s not much else to it, and you could count on one hand the number of scenes filmed off restaurant property. In some ways, the limited budget is all too obvious; there’s an unfortunate yellow tint to most of the kitchen photography, which reflects the camera crew’s reliance on the rooms’ built-in lighting. Music floats in and out of scenes without obvious logic. Guests are occasionally difficult to hear.

Adding to what we might charitably call the show’s casual feel, guests sometimes leave halfway through the episode. The series premiere begins with CC Sabathia’s wife telling the gang that she has to go pick up the kids. In the finale, a chef gestures at an empty chair and asks, “Will someone else be joining you?” Fielder deadpans, “Yes, that would be Xzibit.”

Each episode lives on the strength of its interviews. Luckily, the greatest strength of Fielder’s Choice is Prince himself, a charmer and a quick wit who consistently draws interesting answers out of his guests. The best episode is probably the third, featuring Griffey Jr., because Fielder gets to bond with one of his idols, and is genuinely keen to compare notes about having baseball-playing fathers.

Set at Urbain 40 in Orlando, that episode finds the Fielders and Griffey chatting over steak about playing NBA Jam, coping with career-threatening injuries, and remembering their childhood baseball heroes.

“Mine was Rickey Henderson,” Griffey tells the Fielders. “I played basketball with Rickey. He made a basket and he jumped in his car and drove off. To this day I’m still upset about that, that he beat me and he was like, I beat you, so it’s over.”

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Griffey’s story about playing with his father is probably the single most heartfelt moment in the whole series.

“When he got released,” he says, “the Mariners called me and said, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about bringing your dad over…’ He gets over there and he says, ‘Hey, this is your team. I’m just happy to be here. I get a front row seat watching you play. It’ll make up for the times I wasn’t there because of travel schedules and things like that.’

“We also had a bet, and whoever got the first hit, we had to pay for dinner or lunch. But the other person got a chance to tie. So he gets up and – the older you get, there’s certain names that you get called. Fossil, greybeard, dinosaur, pops. Well, I said, ‘Get a hit, Dad.’ Everybody else in the dugout started laughing, and I turned around and said what? And they said, it’s the first time somebody else said ‘Dad’ and meant it.

“We went to Anaheim a couple weeks later. He hits it out and shakes my hand and as he shakes my hand he says, that’s how you do it son. I get a 3-0 green light. And you know as a young ballplayer you don’t get a 3-0 green light. You have to take one. So I hit it out, and I’m running the bases and I can’t wait to shake his hand. He makes me wait ‘til everybody else shakes my hand before I shake his hand.

“He batted second, I batted third. I said, ‘for 17 years you protected me. For the next two months, I’m protecting you.’”

While Prince and his guests do most of the talking, Chanel acts as a foil, the clubhouse outsider who represents all of us and our curiosity about what goes on in the game, with a little dose of ew-gross at baseball’s middle-school mores. When her husband and CC Sabathia compare the 2008 Brewers to the 1986 Mets, she interjects: “But without all the…” The men trade a quick, knowing look.

In the same conversation, Prince Fielder explains to the camera how he greeted Sabathia when the pitcher got his first win as a Brewer: He stripped naked and gave Sabathia a bear hug. “That was my ritual in Milwaukee,” Fielder says. “If you’re a new pitcher and you won, I get naked and hug you.” Judging from Chanel’s face, she hadn’t heard that story before.

Little character moments and inside-baseball trivia like that enliven the show. (Another oddity: According to Tony Gwynn Jr., Mike Cameron always mentored young players to never drink out of a straw.) As an actual travel show, however, Fielder’s Choice Food Show has its shortcomings. The hosts are often too busy eating to really describe anything, and only a few chefs address the camera directly. Aside from one jaunt to a Mexican restaurant in Vegas, the foods are surprisingly consistent from one place to the next. In at least three episodes, the Fielder’s Choice trophy goes to a steak. Vegan Prince is but a memory.

Prince and Chanel Fielder sample the wines at Chazz Palminteri in New York City. (Fielder’s Choice Food Show, 2017)

The fourth episode, which takes place at Chazz Palminteri’s restaurant in New York, has the most culinary appeal and visual flair. Unusually, director Rachel Winter takes time to really linger in the kitchen, which, also unusually, is well-lit and full of food porn. Montenegro-born chef Enjo Purisic shows us, step-by-step, how to grill a whole octopus and serve it with Adriatic-style fixings. It’s a mouthwatering scene and the only genuine cooking that happens in the episodes available so far.

Most of the time, the Fielders and their guests aren’t too descriptive about what they’re eating. I can relate to that. I once judged an Iron Chef-style competition, and when the moment of truth came, the only thoughts that came into my mind were things like “mmm” and “look, fish!” A producer helpfully came up the judges’ table and whispered to us, “It would be nice if you described to the audience what’s on your plate.” A few minutes later, she reminded us again.

And so as a failed food judge, I’m pretty impressed with Prince Fielder. He’s quick to a joke and often leaps into descriptions that hit dead-on the feelings food can conjure up. For instance: “This lobster tastes like it has buttermilk biscuits inside of it.” On a spicy food challenge: “A blowtorch, but seasoned.”

Or his retort when they go for Italian food and Chanel tells him, “You love eggplant parm.”

“That’s just parm,” Prince says, accurately. “That’s cheese and fried gooey stuff. That eggplant has no nutritional value.”

If Guy Fieri ever retires, Prince Fielder would be a lively host for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. He’s got the easy smile, the wit, and the sheer enthusiasm for food. All he needs is a little practice.

But there’s another reason to wish he had taken a Fieri-style approach to the show. Given his sympathetic interviewing and enthusiastic devouring, Fielder seems a natural champion of the little guy, of mom-and-pop restaurants that cook from the heart. I can imagine him introducing us to entrepreneurs with inspiring stories, or chefs who overcame long odds in order to plate delicious cuisine. The closest we get to that here is Lindo Michoacán in Vegas, where the Fielder children unexpectedly make a cameo and the owner challenges the ballplayers with entire bowls of hot chili peppers.

Steakhouses are great too, of course. The question of balance – between fine dining and everyday spots, between haute cuisine and holes in the wall, between insider access and an authentic experience – is something that conscientious members of the food media struggle with all the time. If there are going to be future seasons of Fielder’s Choice, I’d like to see Prince and Chanel give some love to underdogs, maybe even some of the haunts they frequented during his playing career.

A second season of Fielder’s Choice appears to be in the works. As with the first season, there is no public information about it, but the current run’s introductory credits sequence shows all kinds of special guest stars – notably Omar Minaya and actor Danny Aiello – who never appear in the episodes Amazon has uploaded. That footage must be lying around somewhere.

Perhaps those missing episodes will be more tightly edited, omitting moments when the hosts decide to Instagram mid-episode, or skipping past awkward pauses as everybody chews on their steaks. (During one first-season episode, the main courses arrived and I arose from my couch, went to the kitchen, mixed a Manhattan, and returned to the living room without missing a word.) Perhaps, too, future installments will continue drawing on Fielder’s extensive contacts throughout baseball to generate interesting conversations.

One can hope. But for now, Fielder’s Choice is a harmless, inconsistent low-budget trifle. At its best, the show is a window into the fraternal culture of professional baseball. At its worst, hey, you can always get up and mix another drink.


Brian Reinhart is the Dallas Observer's food critic. You may also know him from FanGraphs as the "Well-Beered Englishman." Follow him on Twitter @bgreinhart.
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pedeysRSox
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pedeysRSox

Great news for Prince Fielder, it seems like he’s found what he wants to do now that he can’t play baseball anymore. I hope he does well and keeps an open mind.

Da Bear
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Da Bear

How long until the inevitable episode with Ickey Woods as a guest star, where he shows a shameless bias toward cold cuts?

nickolai
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nickolai

Thanks for the write-up, I’m pumped to hear about this show. I’ve always wanted to see a show featuring top-caliber athletes devour their 10K calories/day (think Michael Phelps in his prime), but this show seems like a decent proxy.

Dennis Bedard
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Dennis Bedard

Always thought it would be fun to match a player with a food and/or drink. Roger Clemens would be a medium rare NY strip with a scotch. Mike Piazza would be sashimi with wine. Dave Kingman would be a case of Stroh’s or whatever Sunday afternoon softball players drink. Reggie Jackson would be a bottle of champagne.

Psychic... Powerless...
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Member
Psychic... Powerless...

Jesus Montero, ice-cream sandwich.

JeromeWashington
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JeromeWashington

Just comes to show how bad of a concept this show was. I watched it when it first came out about 6 months ago and nobody in the media noticed until now.

francis_soyer
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francis_soyer

If it means that the old Bourdain goes off the air, I’m 100% for it.

I hope he replaces Colicchio too.