April 21, 2009

All of Michigan has lost a friend


Mark “the Bird” Fydrich will be immortalized in sports forever. Whether you remember him for the here today, gone tomorrow shot in the arm he gave baseball with his rookie season, or for talking to the ball and grooming the mound by hand, his originality, combined with skill, made him memorable, especially to Tigers fans.

But don’t overlook the Bird’s post-baseball impact.

Last winter when the Wertz Warriors, a group in Michigan that rides snowmobiles over 900 miles each year in an effort to raise funds for the Special Olympics. It was thrilling to hear about the group stopping in Sterling. Hopefully the memory of the Bird can encourage people to continue to support the Wertz Warriors and the Special Olympics (locally, later this summer, there will be a golf outing to help raise funds for the effort).

Why? They were bringing the Bird.

Let’s not beat around the bush. Everyone wants to help out with great causes like the Special Olympics. But not everyone would endure lines of autograph seekers packing into a small bar for a chance to get a signature on a baseball bat or baseball or trading card or picture or random piece of paper.

The Bird did.

He shook hands. He posed for pictures. He rode miles and miles in cold weather in Michigan, even though he lived in Massachusetts.

Why? Who knows? Who knows why the Bird talked to the ball, would shake every one of his teammates’ hands after getting an out or why he was always taking his cleats off in the middle of the field and dumping dirt out of them in the highlights being played on TV now. Was it just discomfort?

It is easy to see, though, why everyone loved Fydrich. Too often people become something, like a major league pitcher, and then they’re not themselves anymore. Not so with the Bird.

He didn’t cut his hair, he didn’t care that the first time he had a discussion with the baseball, everyone probably though he was a joke.

Instead, he kept on being himself. And what become of it? He made people love him.

And not just Detroit Tiger fans. On tributes about the Bird, it was said teams used to actually call and try to get the Tigers to change their rotation so the Bird could pitch against them.

Why would a team want a 19 game winner pitching against them? Because they knew the truth. People loved the Bird. It didn’t matter if the game was in Seattle or Texas, if the Bird was grooming the mound, the stands would be packed.

In fact, the sports world needs another Mark “the Bird” Fydrich. It needs someone quirky, funny and talented to show us all that being cool doesn’t mean you have to dress or act a certain way.

You just have to be yourself.

And that’s what the Bird was – himself.


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I am not much of a baseball fan these days, however, as a kid growing up in Smalltown, Michigan I loved the Tigers. So when our little town had its annual parade with the announcement that a Tiger team member may show up, I HAD to go. I had broken my arm a week or so before the big day and sat on the curb with it casted and in a sling. The local news station came rounding the corner and much to my delight, there on the back sat Mark Fydrich! He was my favorite! He stepped off the car and walked over to me asking about my arm and he signed my cast. He was wonderful (and I believe my first crush).

A few weeks after the parade, my parents finally gave in and bought me the parakeet I had been asking for. Of course, I named him "Fydrich". I wrote a letter to Mark and told him about MY bird. I told him about how he had made my day at the parade. And you know what? He wrote me back! How many sports idols would do that these days? He sent me autographed pictures, signed by the entire team. He sent me a baseball that he himself had signed. I was overjoyed and carried these things around with me for the entire summer, showing anyone and everyone. And by the fall, when I started junior high, I was an immediate hit with the boys. They all envied my collection and my story of the wonderful Mark Fydrich.

Because I am not so much into baseball, I didn't hear of the horrible accident that had taken such a beautiful person away from us. My sister called me to tell me she had heard the news and asked me if I was okay. She remembered how he had made such an impact on me as a little girl. It seemed odd at first that the news would cause such an emotion in me as to evoke tears, but then again, why wouldn't it? Mark gave me something so special. He gave me a perfect summer and a lifelong memory that I will always cherish.

Thank you, Mark...I'll miss you.

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