Charlotte Knights

Fields, Knights back for 2008

FORT MILL -- There doesn't seem to be a lot more Josh Fields can do to prove he belongs in the major leagues.

The Charlotte Knights' third baseman produced last year when called to the bigs by the parent Chicago White Sox. He batted .244 with 23 homers, the most by an American League rookie, and drove home 67 runs.

Fields was filling in for ex-Knight Joe Crede, who was sidelined with back problems.

The thought was Fields would be with the big club this year despite Crede's return. He worked some in the outfield last year, knowing that Crede was the incumbent at the hot corner.

Then came spring training this year and Fields outplayed Crede, batting .242 and driving in four runs. Crede hit .172 and knocked in one run.

But when it came time to make cuts, Crede stayed in the Windy City and Fields was shipped to the Triple-A Knights for his third round of International League play.

"It was a numbers game," said Fields on Tuesday at Knights Stadium as the Knights prepared for their IL opener Thursday at 7:05 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio, against the Clippers. "I had a good spring. I am surprised a little bit. I felt like I deserved to be in Chicago. I guess things just didn't work out and I'm back here."

Despite being sent back to the minors, Fields believes he's shown that he can play in the majors.

"I definitely know that I proved myself at that level and I deserve to play there. Hopefully, it's just a matter of time until something happens or opens up."

Fields did strike out 125 times in 373 at-bats with the White Sox, but team officials didn't tell him to come down to the Knights and work on any part of his game.

"It wasn't to work on anything. They didn't have any room," said the 6-foot-1, 220-pound ex-Oklahoma State quarterback. "That's pretty much it. It wasn't what I didn't do, me not producing or anything like that. It was just there was no room on the big-league team."

Fields broke into Triple-A baseball with a bang in 2006 in his first stint with the Knights, winning the IL Rookie of the Year award. He hit .305 with 19 homers, 70 RBIs and 28 stolen bases.

He began the 2007 season with the Knights, hitting .283 with 10 homers and 37 RBIs in 56 games before being summoned to Chicago.

Knights manager Marc Bombard hasn't seen anything negative about Fields' attitude since he reported to the Knights in spring training.

"He's been fine," Bombard said. "It's happened to other players. It's not only him. He came down, had a good attitude. He's quite a kid. He's a competitor. He'll go out and play. It won't be any problem with him."

Fields isn't sure just what it'll take to get him back to the White Sox.

"I really don't know. That's kind of the hard question," Fields said. "I'm here and (relief pitcher) Ehren Wassermann is here, as well, and we're kind of going through the same old struggle of wondering what we have to do to say, 'Hey,' or to get them to say, 'You're going to stick and stay here on the big-league team.'

"It's a very tough situation to be in when you're told you've earned a big-league spot, you should be on the big-league team and you still get sent back to Triple-A. It's tough."

While Fields would rather be in Chicago, he'll be a tremendous addition to the Knights. Fields is one of 11 players who spent time with the Knights a year ago. And Fields is excited about the prospects of the 2008 Knights.

"I've told someone already I think there might be some International League records broken on this team, pitching-wise and offensively," Fields said. "This is going to be a tough lineup for teams to come in and face."

Back from last year's team are pitchers Shaun Babula, Lance Broadway, Jason Childers, Dewon Day, Charlie Haeger and Wassermann, catchers Donny Lucy and Ryan Smith, Fields and outfielders Jason Bourgeois and Thomas Collaro.

Bombard, in his second season as manager after leading the Knights to a 63-80 mark a year ago, is enthused about the '08 team.

"I like the makeup of the club," Bombard said. "We've got some younger guys with experience, a few of 'em, but we've got some experienced guys that are professionals. It's pretty good chemistry.

"We've got some guys back from last year, but we've got some new faces, free agents. It seems like a pretty good group right now. In spring training, it was pretty good chemistry. We hope to keep that going."

Bombard likes to use his entire roster and will get an opportunity to do that with only three outfielders listed. However, the Knights have some versatility with a lot of guys able to play the infield and outfield.

Fields, massive Brad Eldred (6-5, 275), Dewayne Wise, Collaro and Jeff Liefer could provide power, and Bourgeois is a speedster.

Haeger, a right-handed knuckleballer, is scheduled to start Thursday's season opener at Columbus. Left-hander Mike O'Connor is slated to pitch for the Clippers, the top farm team of the Washington Nationals.

The Knights will play four games in Columbus and four in Toledo before returning to Knights Stadium for their April 11 home opener against Columbus at 7:15 p.m.

n KNIGHTS NOTES: Bombard was hoping to spend Tuesday night in front of a television, watching the National Invitation Tournament game between Florida and Massachusetts.

Bombard, who resides in Tampa, Fla., is a big Florida Gators fan.

"I plan to watch it," Bombard said. "I know it's the NIT, but ..."

n A familiar face from 2000-01 is back with the Knights in Liefer, a left-handed hitting infielder.

The 33-year-old Liefer, who slugged 32 homers and drove in 91 runs with the Knights in 2000, has returned to the White Sox fold. He was the White Sox's first-round selection in the 1995 draft.

Liefer spent the 2006 season in Japan with Seibu Lions, hitting .261 with eight homers and 28 RBIs.

n The Knights have one South Carolina native on their roster in Wise, a veteran outfielder who grew up in Chapin.

Wise spent last season in the Cincinnati organization.