Michael Fulmer has gone through a lot in his six-plus seasons as a Tiger, from winning American League Rookie of the Year in 2016 to an All-Star selection the next season, then knee and elbow surgeries that halted his career. He’s also experienced fatherhood, which has changed his life more than anything and given him a different perspective on his career.
With Father’s Day coming up, Fulmer talked about his experiences raising a son and a daughter while competing in the Majors.
How did becoming a father impact how you approach the game and baseball in general?
I think the simple, short answer to that is that usually night games, 7 o’clock games, you wake up at 10, 11 in the morning, you sleep in, you do everything you need to do, eat lunch and come to the field, right? Now it’s more waking up a little earlier with the kids. But I think the most important thing, and the best thing about it, is that after the game, whether you do good or bad, you get to go home to your kids and your family. And I think it grew on me a lot, not just being a baseball player and a husband at the time, but actually being a father and not being able to take the bad nights on the ballfield home, because you get to go home and be a dad. That’s kind of the joy that I put into it.
Both of my kids are awesome. My son’s 3 now, and he’s old enough to realize what baseball is and what we’re trying to accomplish and what I actually do for a living now. But I think the biggest thing is just being able to go home and forget about the baseball side of things and actually be a dad. The only thing my son knows is that if he can come to the clubhouse, it means we’ve won. If he doesn’t get to come in the clubhouse, we didn’t win. He always tells me, ‘Dada, your team didn’t win today. I didn’t get to come in the clubhouse.’ And I’ll say, ‘No, buddy, we didn’t. Maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow, you’ll come in the clubhouse.’
That’s a whole different type of pressure.
It really is. He loves to come in here, and he’s just old enough to understand and interact with everybody. He calls all my teammates my friends. Mama will always ask, ‘Hey, Miles, what did you do in the clubhouse tonight after the game?’ He’ll go, ‘I talked to Dada’s friends, and Dada’s friends talked to me, and I danced.’ He loves it, right? He loves the camaraderie of everything, and all these guys love him, too. And that’s the cool part about it. My earlier years, me without kids, seeing Victor Martinez’s son coming in here all the time, [Eric] Haase’s kids coming in here, Dustin Garneau’s kids coming in here, Miggy’s kids. Christopher, shoot, he was this tall when I saw him when I first came up, and now I feel like he’s almost 6 feet.
It kind of puts everything in perspective, because you don’t really see or think you’ve been playing in the game that long until you see the growth of some of these guys’ kids, mine included. I think it was six weeks after my Tommy John [surgery] when my son was born, and going from that moment to him running around in the clubhouse, I never thought I’d actually see the day. I think it’s cool seeing him just enjoying the baseball side of things, running the bases after every Sunday game here, the fireworks the other night. He absolutely loved the fireworks. He hangs out with Haase’s kids, [Tucker] Barnhart’s son, Harold’s son, Willi’s kid. It’s kind of a family within a family, and it’s really cool to see.
Because you became a dad so soon after surgery, one of the toughest points in your career, how much did that impact your outlook then?
God has perfect timing. That’s what I see from it. There’s pictures when my son was born with me still in my brace from Tommy John, holding him in my left hand, pictures of me sleeping in the hospital bed. I think there’s one where I’m sleeping, my arm’s in a brace and I have my head cocked to the left, and Miles is in my wife’s arms in the middle of the night, and he’s sleeping with his mouth open and his head cocked to the left, just like me. It’s moments like that, really something cool. I think 2019, 2020 for me were kind of low times in my career, rehabbing from Tommy John. And it’s a long time, but it made it go by quicker with my son being born.
How much does it mean to have him realize what you do now for a living, and have him be aware of watching you play?
That’s kind of what I told my wife after our son was born, and our daughter. I told her I wanted to play for as long as I possibly could. Being in year seven now, everybody wants to play 20 years, right? How realistic is that? It’s hard to do. That’s why a lot of guys who do it are in the Hall of Fame. But my goal quickly changed from play as long as possible, which is obviously still a goal, to playing for as long hopefully to where my son can fully grasp the concept of what his dad did for a living when he gets older. You look at Kody Clemens and the Rocket, how cool that is. I’m sure that bond from father to son, seeing his first big league hit, it’s gotta be overwhelming for him. I think just the family aspect of it, the father-son aspect, it grows. It means more than just the game.
Has your son grabbed a bat yet?
He likes to throw. I’m 90 percent sure he’s right-handed. I tried getting him lefty, but it didn’t happen. He likes to swing a bat. He hasn’t really done much formal swinging at a baseball yet, but he likes to put balls on a tee and try to hit. I’m not the most coordinated guy. I’m sure he takes after me. But hopefully we can get some things ironed out.