ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -He was one of baseball's most feared sluggers, a home run-hitting terror for the Detroit Tigers, and a key cog in the New York Yankees' run to the 1996 World Series championship.
But Cecil Fielder's fortunes took a downward turn after he stopped playing, including casino gambling losses of more than a half-million dollars.
Now, as the new manager of the Atlantic City Surf of the independent Can-Am League, he'll be working about three blocks from the casinos. But the plus-size slugger known as ``Big Daddy'' says it's no big deal, denying he ever had a gambling problem.
``Gambling has never been a temptation for me,'' he said Tuesday. ``I made a lot of money, so everywhere I went, I was given everything. I had the opportunity to go anywhere I wanted to go.
``So be it with the casinos,'' he said. ``They gave me opportunities to bring a dozen people to the hotel and stay there for free. That part of my life is over. We had fun when we had fun. I'm here to coach this team.''
Fielder said he would not gamble while in Atlantic City.
On just two days in February 1999, he lost $580,000 at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. According to a lawsuit filed in state Superior Court, Fielder paid off small amounts of the debt until the following year, when Trump Plaza sued him and won a judgment for $563,359.
Asked if he had repaid the debt, Fielder would only say, ``That's all in the past.''
A spokesman for Trump Entertainment Resorts, which operates three Atlantic City casinos including Trump Plaza, would not say if the debt had ever been collected.
Asked if he considered himself at any point to be a problem gambler, Fielder replied, ``No. I just had the opportunity to have large credit lines across the country.''
Every time Fielder steps onto the field, he'll see Trump Plaza looming beyond the outfield fences. But he won't want to visit it.
``I might take (batting practice) with my kids and try to hit it,'' he said.
Fielder, who made millions as a first baseman and designated hitter, will earn between $3,000 and $5,000 a month managing the Surf.
The cigar-chomping slugger hit 319 home runs in a 13-year major league career that also included stints with the Toronto Blue Jays, Anaheim Angels and Cleveland Indians.
Fielder said he expects to one day reconcile with his son, Prince, the Milwaukee Brewers slugger who has his father's prodigious power swing and ample physique.
The two have been estranged for about three years amid lingering bitterness over the breakup of Cecil Fielder's first marriage.
``I'm probably the proudest father in the world to see my son be able to do what he does,'' the elder Fielder said.
Fielder fondly reminisced about the times when Prince was young and would travel with him on road trips, taking batting practice in major league parks and falling asleep exhausted at the end of the day in his father's hotel room.
``I have to let my son grow up,'' Fielder said. ``He gets upset when I say that, but that's the truth. He's married now, so he's going to understand what really goes on in life as far as a man and a woman. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. At the point Prince understands that, I think our relationship is going to be a lot better.''
Cecil Fielder said he yearns for the day when he and his son will reconcile.
``No matter what, you got to love your parents,'' he said. ``That's in the Bible. Until you get back to that, everything is going to be off-center. He's going to have to come back. Ain't got to apologize for nothing, but my son will come back one day, and we'll have a great relationship.''
Fielder made his managerial debut last season with the Charlotte County Redfish of the independent South Coast League.
On Tuesday afternoon, he slipped on a black size 52 Surf jersey, smiled when he could button it, and said he has no regrets in his life.
``Everybody learns lessons,'' he said. ``Divorce, Trump, all that. It was a lesson learned. Life goes on.''

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