Monday, April 13, 2009

Mark Fidrych Defines His Dash: Baseball Loses Its Most Colorful Star

It's been a tough week for baseball, and one that should make us stop and realize how precious life is.

"Live every day is if it were your last, and then, one day you shall be right."

Only four days ago, the Major League Baseball family lost Anaheim rookie pitcher, Nick Adenhart, who was killed in a deadly hit-and-run accident hours after making a stunning 2009 debut.

Tonight, the MLB family lost one of its most colorful characters when former All-Star pitcher Mark "The Bird" Fidrych passed away in an apparent accident on his farm in Massachusetts.

Fidrych was 54.

Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early told the Associated Press that Fidrych was found by a friend of the family around 2:30 p.m., and was under a dump truck that he appeared to be working on at the time of his death.

Fidrych bought the farm more than 30 years ago with bonus money he received when signing out of Northborough High School.

"The entire Detroit Tigers organization was saddened to learn of the passing of former player Mark Fidrych today," the team said in a statement Monday evening. "Mark was beloved by Tigers fans, and he was a special person with a unique personality. The Tigers send our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends."

Fidrych burst onto the baseball scene in 1976 as a lanky right-hander with wiry hair and a "march to the beat of a different drum" personality.

Fidrych was known to talk to the baseball and get down on his hands and knees to "manicure the mound" as part of his on-the-mound antics. He would pace maniacally behind the mound after each out and would throw back balls to the umpire that "had hard hits in them."

After filling the final roster spot for the Tigers that season, "The Bird" pitched two games in relief before throwing a two-hitter in his first major league start. Fidrych, who earned his nickname for his resemblance to Sesame Street's Big Bird, won nine of his first 10 starts, and was named to the American League All-Star team.

The Bird became an instant cult hero and fans filled the stands of Tiger Stadium each time he took the hill. His fans, who became known as "The Bird Watchers", flocked to Tiger Stadium in record numbers. In Fidrych's 18 home appearances, the Tigers attendance was half of what it was for their entire 81-game home schedule.

Opponents began asking Detroit to change its pitching rotation so Fidrych could pitch in their ballparks.

He appeared on the covers of Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News and became the first athlete to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

Fidrych also drew attention for his bachelor lifestyle. He continued to drive a green sub-compact and lived in a small Detroit apartment. He often spoke of his inability to answer all of his fan mail on his league-minimum $16,500 salary, and told people that if he hadn't been a pitcher, he'd work pumping gas in Northborough.

He ended his rookie campaign with a 19-9 record and a healthy 2.34 ERA, and tossed 24 complete games, including six in succession.

Following those six complete games in June of his sophomore year, Fidrych's "right wing" deserted him. He started only sixteen more career games for the Tigers before the Tigers cut him in 1981.

Fidrych finished with a career record of 29-19 and a 3.10 ERA.

Fidrych's tomb stone will read "August 14, 1954-April 13, 2009".

He was born Aug. 14, 1954 died April 13, 2009, and the dash stands for how he spent his life.

How we are defined as human beings is not defined by the first date or the last date, but by how we define our dash.

Mark Fidrych will be remembered for how he defined his dash.

Fidrych is survived by his wife, Ann, and daughter Jessica.

R.I.P Mark Fidrych...You will be missed!

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