Mark Fidrych is dead, and that makes me inconsolably sad. Man, it's been a tough few days for the world of major league baseball.
I always credit the 1978 season with turning me into a hardcore baseball fan, but of course I had discovered the game long before that. A real favorite in those early years was The Bird himself, all arms and legs and that shock of yellow hair. Not so much because of that wonderful rookie year itself-I was really not into performances then-but because of the incredibly entertaining, OCD-inspired mound presence. Manicuring the mound until it was just so. Talking to the ball, imploring it not to allow an opposing batter a hit. Punishing the ball if it let him down. And then there was that crazy mop of blond ringlets that inspired the nickname and drove teenage girls wild (much the same way Mark Bellhorn's curls would nearly 30 years later). In a travesty of malpractice, an undiagnosed rotator cuff tear ended his career at 29...but the legend lived on. Ask any baseball fan 35-40+ and they know-he's a part of our collective memory. The guy was a talent and a personality-a fun personality, really without a hint of entitlement or arrogance-and that combination has become rare indeed (see: Ramirez, Manny or Schilling, Curt, for examples of, umm, talent with the wrong kind of outsized personality...)
I followed Fidrych for years afterwards, and would always check out any show or interview I heard about after his retirement. He never seemed bitter or angry about his lost opportunity, and had seemingly made a nice life for himself outside of baseball. Gone too soon. The people of Michigan have had many, many things to grieve over the past year or more, and it seems tremendously unfair for them to have to suffer this as well.
RIP, Mark. You'll be missed.