Mark Fidrych pitched the day I first stepped foot inside Tiger Stadium.
The year was 1977. I didn’t understand the game at all. But the guy on the mound performing all the crazy antics made perfect sense to me. I was 6 years old.
The Bird left an indelible impression on me that day — as he did the entire baseball world. Never before or since has a ball player left such a mark after only one full season. Of all the pitchers in the game, Fidrych was Ernie Harwell’s all-time favorite. That alone speaks volumes.
Fidrych was a little boy living in a young man’s body. His jubilant personality was not an act. The guy was genuinely thrilled to be pitching in the big leagues and he didn’t care if it showed. He simply couldn’t hold back his enthusiasm. Fidrych was just being himself — and America just couldn’t get enough.
His attitude was refreshing and inspiring and contagious. The Bird had a gift for making people happy and his internal energy beamed out of him like a sunrise over the ocean.
My heart sank like a stone when I heard the news that my first childhood hero passed away. Fidrych, 54, died on his Massachusetts farm while apparently working on his pickup truck. Somehow, the world doesn’t seem as innocent anymore.
Goodbye, Mark. I’ll never forget how happy you made me. How happy you made all of us. There will never be anyone else like you. And you will be deeply missed.