Few things make me as embarrassingly sentimental as the game of Baseball. I could wax on the mythopoetics and strange superstitions of the game I love for days. But if you want to ever see me get teary-eyed, ask me about Mark "The Bird" Fidrych. He represented everything I love about Baseball, joy and the resiliency of the human spirit.
Fidrych had one unforgettable breakout rookie season before injuries quickly derailed the most promising of careers. He went from being a household name, playing the one game he loved with all his heart, to never being able to recover that groove again. The fleeting joy “The Bird” had authored over one beautiful Bicentennial summer would slip from his fingers within four injury-riddled years after that remarkable rookie campaign.
Not that he didn’t try. He labored in the minors for a couple seasons before finally hanging up his glove.
I can only imagine how hard that must have been; being forced to leave it all behind. I can imagine him clinging to the hope, desperately hanging on to the margins, believing he could somehow still Will that ball to do the magical things it used to and baffle hitters the way he did in ‘76. I can see him in my mind: working hard to get back, trying to throw a few decent pitches without wincing in pain, pitches that might allow you to move back across that chalk line and back onto that beautiful major league mound, back into the only world you ever really loved.
But, like most pie-in-the-sky dreams, his great comeback would never come to fruition. He faded away from Baseball (though he is still beloved by die-hard fans of the Detroit Tigers) and, sadly, died in a tragic accident on his Northborough, Mass. farm in April of 2009.
But in my heart, he stands there forever: cleaning the mound, talking to the ball, high-fiving his teammates after every play. Mark Fidrych played the game like a Little Leaguer, with as much joy as a grown man can possibly display on a major league diamond.
In my heart, "The Bird" is still warming up on the mound at Tiger Stadium, with forty thousand rapturously joyous fans ready to cheer his every move like it was the 7th game of the World Series.
So, if you're so inclined, familiarize yourself with my hero: Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, who left both the game he loved and this world, far too soon. Behold Fidrych, the all-time single season leader in childlike joy..