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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mark 'The Bird' Fidrych, MLB pitcher found dead late Monday

Baseball suffering another loss after a past week filled with the deaths of 2 players, a legendary announcer and a fan.

The first player was Nick Adenhart, the 22-year-old Los Angeles Angels pitcher killed in a drunk driving accident that also killed two of his friends. Just three days before that on opening day, it was not a player but an 27 year old Angels fan found bleeding and unconscious in an Angels Stadium stairwell after a fatal altercation with other spectators and his name was Brian Powers, a 27-year-old.

Then yesterday came the news that Harry Kalas, the legendary broadcaster of the Philadelphia Phillies since 1971, was also found dead at age 73 in a broadcast booth in Washington, preparing for an afternoon game against the Nationals if you can believe that, as they say dying with his boots on and exactly like he would have wanted it.

Now late yesterday comes word that seventies Detroit Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych known to fans as the eccentric Bird for acting a little strangely on the mound when pitching was also found dead from an apparent accident underneath a truck on his own farm/

Lets hope this is one baseball record that stops here and isn't broken anytime soon. May these 4 men all rest in peace and thanks to the latter two for all the entertainment they provided America and the previous one who only got the chance once, and the fan who just loved the game killed for no reason whatsoever

Mark 'The Bird' Fidrych, MLB pitcher known for antics on mound; at 54|

The Boston Globe
:"Hundreds of thousands of fans watched Mark Fidrych get on his knees to smooth the surface of the mound and talk to the baseball before going into a pitching motion that sent arms and legs akimbo en route to his delivering a 93 mile-per-hour fastball or a slider that abruptly dropped below a batter's ankles.

Nah, the right-hander would tell those who bothered to ask in 1976 when his remarkable rookie season with the Detroit Tigers captured the nation's fancy, the conversation was between the pitcher and himself.

"Talking to the ball is something I started to do when I turned pro," Mr. Fidrych, who grew up in Northborough, told the Globe in May 1976. "Well, not talking to the ball. I'm really talking to myself. I'm telling myself about situations, about what I should be thinking about. I use it to help myself concentrate."

That concentration led him to a banner year and a 19 and 9 record - not to mention a spot on the cover of Rolling Stone. He also scooped up an All Star game appearance and Rookie of the Year honors. Mr. Fidrych, who suffered an injury during his second season that led to an early exit from Major League Baseball, died yesterday in an apparent accident at his farm in Northborough, said authorities, who added that a Mack truck fell on him. He was 54.

Unfazed by the sudden celebrity the '76 season brought, and never bitter after stardom left as quickly as it arrived, Mr. Fidrych was known around town as Fid or Fidy, even after a baseball coach dubbed him "the Bird" because his gangly 6-foot-3 frame and curly hair evoked the "Sesame Street" character Big Bird.

"You'd never have known he was an ex-ballplayer by the way he carried himself," said Joseph Amorello, a friend of more than a dozen years who found Mr. Fidrych yesterday at his farm.

Amorello, who works in construction and had occasionally worked beside Mr. Fidrych, said the former hurler "had a million friends. He'd dress in a flannel shirt, and he'd be the first one to grab a shovel and get to work. He was an incredibly hard worker, and we got it done, but we sure had some laughs along the way."

Growing up in Northborough, Mr. Fidrych and his friends played baseball at a local school or on a diamond they carved out of a field in their Northgate neighborhood. An infielder at first while playing American Legion ball, he only pitched when a buddy beat him out at shortstop.

He spent his senior high school year at Worcester Academy and pumped gas during the summer. Mr. Fidrych gave little thought to the baseball draft until he went home for lunch from the gas station one day and found a scout from the Tigers waiting. He signed for a $3,000 bonus.Continued...

During a stint at the Lakeland minor league team, a coach tagged Mr. Fidrych with the nickname that stuck.

Then he made it to the Majors, and fans from coast to coast couldn't get enough of the Bird's quirks and winning ways. In Detroit, where the team hovered near the division cellar, his theatrics on the mound and cheerfully goofy demeanor off the diamond turned the Tigers into a hot ticket. The team struggled to draw more than 20,000 fans to games when he didn't pitch. When Mr. Fidrych was on the mound, 50,000 fans and then some poured into Tiger Stadium.

In his first 1976 start, Mr. Fidrych pitched a complete game, holding the Cleveland Indians to two hits in a 2-1 win. Winning seven of his first eight decisions, he was picked as the American League's starting pitcher for the All Star game.

He met President Gerald Ford the night of the contest. As Mr. Fidrych's celebrity built to rock star status, he attended a fund-raiser with Frank Sinatra and taped an Aqua Velva commercial. Women mailed him marriage proposals.

Finishing with a 2.34 earned run average, Mr. Fidrych went home to Northborough. The next spring, he was casually shagging flies in the outfield when he landed hard and tore the cartilage in his knee. After surgery, he returned to the mound and pitched well enough to be picked for the All Star game again in 1977, but injured his right shoulder when he changed his pitching motion to favor the knee.

Years later, the shoulder injury was diagnosed as a rotator cuff tear, but that news came after an unsuccessful comeback attempt in Pawtucket, with the Red Sox' Triple-A affiliate.

By then he was back in Northborough, where in 1986 he married Ann Pantazis, whose parents owned Chet's Diner. Every Saturday, Mr. Fidrych could be found at the diner, often waiting tables.

"He loved it. Every Saturday he was there," said his mother-in-law, Nancy Pantazis. "He was a wonderful guy. I couldn't ask for a better son-in-law, and he'll be missed."

In Northborough, Mr. Fidrych and his family lived with his wife and daughter, Jessica, on the farm. He also worked as a commercial trucker.

"A lot of people think that Mark Fidrych made enough money where he didn't have to work," he told the Globe in 1996. "Well, I made enough to get me a 10-wheeler and a piece of land and a house, and now I've got to support that."

Lest anyone think he was bitter about the injuries and the departure from the big time, he added, "What I got out of baseball is what I have today, and I've got to look at that. I still see some of my friends that never made it past Triple-A. I made that last big step. I was lucky."

Three years later, he spoke with the Globe before the 1999 All Star game at Fenway Park.

"I got a great life now," he said, sitting in his living room. "I got a family, I got a house, I got a dog. I would like my career to have been longer, but you can't look back. You have to look to the future."

In addition to his wife, daughter, and mother-in-law, Mr. Fidrych leaves three sisters, Paula Grogan of Tennessee, Carol Duda of Auburn, and Lori of Florida.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete last night.



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3 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting! Mark Fidrych is the reason I became interested in baseball all those years ago. What a terrific summer it was in Michigan that year. I will think of you today Ray as I am going to the Tiger/Sox game today (weather permitting) it is currently raining..

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Sharon and do try to enjoy yourself int he cold and inclement weather if you can

    It's funny how the Chicago Detroit connections have been in the past few days in the sports arenas, the one thing that keeps The Wolverine State along the great lake namesake hopes and civic pride going in these tough auto industry times which will hopefully rebound sooner than later...

    ReplyDelete

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