When it comes to topics like the death of Mark Fidrych, I tend to be reflective — and that usually means several hours (or even a day) can pass before I post something about it.
I’ll certainly have more on The Bird this week, but I will share my single memory of Fidrych and his magical 1976 season.
Back then, Tanana was a flamethrower and entered the game with a 14-8 record on his way to a 19-win season. The Bird was 13-4 and, as everyone knows, soaring toward the A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
Anyway, I had two choices: I could attend the game with my family or I could spend the evening hanging out with my grandpa. The choice was easy: I hung out with grandpa.
And what a night! I ate ice cream, played Go Fish and listened to the game on WJR. The fact is, I wasn’t a diehard fan at that point (I was but a pup of 8 years) and, let’s face it, grandpa never disappointed. (One note about the ice cream. Grandpa asked me if I wanted syrup on my Sander’s vanilla. “Of course,” I said, expecting Hershey’s. Instead I got Log Cabin.)
So, what happened in that game? Not much. Only everything you’d expect in a game for the ages: A crowd of 51,822 watching Tanana go eight innings, give up just four hits, and strike out eight. For his part, Fidrych went the distance, too, scattering five hits, allowing only a pair of runs.
Despite the tremendous pitching by both starters, the real hero was The Bird’s personal catcher, Bruce Kimm, whose solo homer in the eighth broke a 2-2 tie. Did I mention it was the only homer he’d hit in his career? ‘Twas.
Sure, the baseball fan in me wishes I’d seen that game, but it’s a much richer memory — and a better story — having the worlds of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych and James McClary collide.
Less than a year after the Fidrych/Tanana tilt, I lost my grandpa — way too soon. Now we’ve lost The Bird before it was time.
Even before learning of Fidrych’s death this afternoon, I couldn’t think of him without thinking of my grandpa and that wonderful night in 1976.
And that’s not going to change.