If you haven’t heard of The Legend of Sam Fuld, you will soon. It’s sweeping the nation in the most postmodern of ways: thousands of Twitter timelines from Tampa to Palo Alto.
Sam Fuld ’04 has come on this season as a regular outfielder for the Rays and a fan favorite in Tampa. The MLB All-Star Game won’t be played until next week, but Fuld has already played in more Big League games (70) this year than in any of his previous seasons. That playing time is thanks largely to the sudden retirement of Manny Ramirez—from whom he stole a home run when Fuld was a Cub and Ramirez a Dodger–in the season’s opening weeks, which opened an outfield spot for the Stanford economics major. With more time on the field and in the batter’s box, Fuld has capitalized in every major statistical category, upping his batting average 100 points from his 2010 mark and improving his OPS by 256 points over last year.
But perhaps the most compelling part of the Sam Fuld story, at least as it currently exists, is the fervor with which fans have attached themselves to the Stanford grad who came to Tropicana Field last offseason after spending 7 years in the Chicago Cubs organization. The Rays have distributed Sam Fuld Superman capes, videos of his catches (like the one embedded below) have gone viral several times over, and #LegendofSamFuld is one of the most-used Twitter hashtags in all of sports since April.
But the Twitter frenzy has been both completely unexpected and entertaining, as fans have used #LegendofSamFuld as an outlet for Fuld praise in the vein of Chuck Norris jokes and Dos Equis’s “The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign. Even Rays manager Joe Maddon chimed in by quoting two of his favorite #LegendofSamFuld tweets:
Fuld’s popularity transcends the Tampa market and the microblogging site. According to Google, worldwide interest in Fuld skyrocketed following a four-hit game against the Red Sox in which he nearly hit for the cycle. And Fuld could have completed the rare feat, but sped into second on his final hit of the game instead of stopping at first to notch a single and complete the cycle. “I know a lot of guys who would have stopped,” said Maddon. ”Some guys in the dugout said they would have slid into first base.”
While news and search on Fuld have understandably dipped since April, his name figures to come up early and often as the Rays compete with Boston and New York for the American League Wild Card.
The Legend only grew when Fuld took the mound against Milwaukee late last month, only to leave before throwing a pitch. He was nonetheless credited in a box score for having pitched, despite accumulating no statistics in 0.0 innings of work.
Even before the Cubs took him in the 10th round of the 2004 draft, Fuld was a legend on the Farm. A .332 career hitter at Stanford, Fuld started 250 of the 260 collegiate games in which he appeared. He finished his college years with a .414 on-base percentage and an .875 OPS during his time in the cardinal and white, concluding one of the great 4-year performances in Stanford baseball history. Fuld made the College World Series All-Tournament Team as a freshman, and followed up his stellar debut with another appearance on the team during his sophomore season in 2002. When Fuld graduated from Stanford, he held the all-time record for career hits (24) in the College World Series, a mark since passed by Dustin Ackley of North Carolina (and now the Seattle Mariners). Fuld’s 17 career runs in the CWS leave him at 3rd all-time—2nd place is occupied by fellow Stanford Man Paul Carey—and Fuld’s 43 total bases in Omaha are the most ever. And, to add yet another World Series statistic, his .764 slugging percentage in the CWS earns him the #6 spot in that category over the event’s history.
If you find all of the statistics mind-numbing, there’s another side to Fuld that ought to solidify his place as a player to watch for Stanford fans following any of the 30 MLB Clubs. Fuld is a Type 1 diabetic and tests his insulin levels multiple times each game. After being diagnosed with the disease at age 10, and with the platform he has as a Major League ballplayer, Fuld has embraced the responsibility of raising awareness of and money for diabetes, as MLB.com pointed out as far back as 2007:
One thing [Fuld] learned a long time ago is the kind of example he can be. Whether it’s by directing the funds from MLB.com’s auction [to diabetes research] or taking a moment to speak to a child with diabetes, Fuld fully understands and embraces what kind of impact he can have as a professional baseball player. “I know how important it was for me,” he said. “I met Bill Gullickson a couple of years after [I was diagnosed]. To be able to speak with him, even though it was brief, it inspired me. I realize how important that is and I try to do that as much as I can.”
While 2011 is not technically Fuld’s rookie season, it is the first in which he’s been utilized on what is, more or less, an everyday basis (he has appeared in just under 80% of Tampa Bay’s games). So don’t be surprised if Fuld picks up his hitting in the second half of the season and finishes the year around .260 with more exposure to Big League pitching and a greater familiarity with the most pitcher-friendly combination of ballparks he’s played in his entire career (according to Baseball-Reference.com).
If the Rays can make a playoff push and earn a postseason appearance, the Legend of Sam Fuld can only grow. More Superman-like catches in the outfield won’t hurt, either, as he completes his first full season with a franchise that loves young, gritty players that are versatile on offense and defense. Although the Rays are stuck in a division that 3 of baseball’s best 5 teams call home, Tampa is only 3.5 games back of the Sox, owners of the American League’s best record, for the division lead, and are well within striking distance of a playoff spot. Plus, if anyone can strike down the high-paying juggernauts of the Northeast, a legend can.