A few days ago, the title of an article on MSNBC's website caught my eye. It was something about a lack of real characters in major league baseball nowadays. I didn’t read the article, but the headline brought me back to 1976 and thoughts of one of the most memorable baseball players I can recall: Mark Fidrych. That made it all the more hard to believe the headline I read on that same website this morning: Mark Fidrych was dead.
I was a diehard Detroit Tigers fan in the mid 1970’s. Believe me, that wasn’t an easy thing to be. Back then, the Tigers simply sucked and everybody knew it. It was one disappointing game and one disappointing season after another. But then, as if out of nowhere, there comes this goofy-looking guy whose resemblance to Sesame Street’s “Big Bird” earned him the nickname “The Bird”. When he was on the mound, he seemed a wound up wellspring of nervous energy. He’d pat the dirt on pitcher’s mound. He’d talk to himself. He’d talk to the ball. He was crazy: but it was the GOOD kind of crazy. And not only that, when he was on the mound, miracle of miracles, there was a pretty good chance the Tigers would win the game. Those who knew him said that his on field antics weren’t an act. He really WAS having fun. And his enthusiasm was contagious.
The Bird made being a Tiger fan exciting again. For those of you too young to remember, the summer of ’76 in Michigan was a hotbed of “Bird Fever”. Tiger stadium would be a sellout whenever he would pitch. And it seemed when the games he was pitching were televised, every set in the area was tuned in. Even people who usually didn’t care for baseball were caught up in the excitement. There were newspaper profiles of the Bird… songs, posters, whatever. It was amazing.
Mark Fidrych brought some fun to people who desperately needed it. It was a fun time to be a Tiger fan.
Sadly, injuries cut short Mark Fidrych’s career. He was soon in the minor leagues and shortly thereafter out of baseball altogether.
But the memories he created remained… and will continue to remain long after his premature death.
Thanks, Mark, for bringing some much-needed joy and excitement into the life of a geeky 14-year-old Tiger fan in Fenton, Michigan. Your exploits will be missed but long remembered. You helped make my summer of 1976 magical.