Tuesday, April 14, 2009
R.I.P., Mark Fidrych
As long as I can remember, my father has had as subscription to Sports Illustrated. I enjoy reading it but don't get it at my apartment, so every time I visit my parents, I'll flip through the issues that I've missed. It was in this manner that I first learned of former Detriot Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych- back in 2001, Steve Rushin interviewed and wrote an article on the pitcher known as the Bird for a special "Where Are They Now?" issue. In his 1976 rookie season, Fidrych skyrocketed to fame- his successful pitching, his eccentric behavior on the mound, and his goofy innocence combined to bring him immense popularity. Due to injuries, Fidrych's career didn't live up to his rookie promise and he soon ended up running a farm and driving a dump truck back in his hometown Northboro, MA. The article is a lengthy but worthwhile read and painted a portrait of that would make anyone (myself included) a fan of The Bird:
Fidrych was only 20 months removed from high school when the Tigers made him a nonroster invitee to spring training in 1976. "I walked into that big league clubhouse in Lakeland [Fla.] and went, 'Wow! Free orange juice!'" he recalls. "'Free chewing gum! Free chewing tobacco! I don't even chew tobacco, but I think I'm gonna start!' I was in heaven. Five pairs of spikes, gloves a dime a dozen, big league uniforms with our names on the back. Audrey, our minor league secretary, gave me writing paper with the Detroit emblem stamped on it so I could write letters home. It made me feel like a big shot."
He just struck me as such a genuine, happy person, an athlete who played sports because they were fun, and a man who always appreciated what he had and didn't become bitter when things didn't work out as planned. Even though I hadn't even been born when he pitched in the majors, I felt saddened today when I saw the news that Mark Fidrych was killed in an accident at the age of 54.