I grew up on the wrong side of the mitten to be a really big Tiger fan. However, if you were a baseball fan in 1976 it is hard to appropriately put into the words the joyous hysteria Mark Fidrych brought baseball that summer. There hasn't been anything like it since.
I was a 10 year old little leaguer struggling through a long and frustrating hitless season. A frightening combination of minimal natural ability plus the fact I was playing on my older brother's 11-12 year old team was almost more than I could take. I really wasn't that bad with the glove, but each at bat was a sad loop of stand-in-the-box-hoping-for-a-walk until the umpire told me to go sit down. Late in the season, I did make nice contact on a couple of foul balls, but the back of my career baseball card says .000 below the 1976 Batting Average column. Somehow watching "The Bird" on TV showed me this miserable game could actually be enjoyed. He was just that much fun.
I know I am not the only that feels this way about Fidrych... My friend Dan Epstein (of Big Hair and Plastic Grass fame) posted this wonderful piece on what would have Mark Fidrych's 57th birthday. Dan is a professional word-slinger and it shows:
I know it should be easy as falling off a dugout bench, but writing about Mark Fidrych is difficult for me.
No other player better embodies the joy that baseball (and life) brings me, and no other player had as much to do with my falling in love with the game in the first place — unless you count certain members of the Bad News Bears, who hit the big screen the same spring that "The Bird" took flight in the big leagues.
Dan went on with...
But I would also like to say this: At a time when concepts like empathy and understanding are openly mocked by politicians and the media, when complex truths are shunted aside in favor of soundbites, and this country seems more catastrophically divided than ever, it's worth remembering the radiant joy that Mark Fidrych brought to our troubled and confused nation during its Bicentennial year — and that he did it by being open-hearted, genuine, and completely true to himself. There's a valuable lesson in there somewhere.