Opening day for the Tigers at Comerica Park was last Friday.
Opening day here in Detroit is a big deal. Living here I never realized what a big deal we make of opening day until I worked with some people from out of state. They told me that opening day was not such a huge deal in their home town. Here it is a holiday, and it fell on Good Friday this year so many people had the day off. (It was also my 10th wedding anniversary so no way was I making it to the game!)
To me opening day is important because it means my favorite sport is back and playing games that mean something again. I have always loved baseball but it wasn't until the World Series cancelling strike of 1994 that made me realize just how much I loved baseball. No World Series and no MLB playoffs was dreadful. Many people cursed the game and said they'd never be a fan again. I took a different track: I decided to savor and enjoy the game all the more.
However, it is with sadness that I write about the sport I love today. Because one of the reasons I love the game so much passed away a few days ago: Mark "The Bird" Fidrych.
I was 6 going on 7 in 1976 when Fidrych burst on the scene as rookie. His eccentric ways, incredible pitching, and "awww shucks" attitude made him an instant favorite for my brother and I. Willie Horton was our favorite Tiger, but Fidrych became a solid second almost immediately.
He also started the first Tiger game I ever attended. (I'll have to do a post about that game at a later date.) Tiger Stadium was packed that night, the atmosphere was electric. The team was a losing team but you wouldn't have known it. That is what The Bird did, he packed them in. Everyone wanted to see him pitch.
I met him once. He lived in an apartment complex near our house in Belleville, MI where I grew up. One day I was grocery shopping with my mom. As we were checking out the cashier asked me if I like Mark 'The Bird' Fidrych. I was about 7 years old then and I told her I did. She pointed him out standing in another line and told me: "If you ask him for an autograph, he'll give you one." I asked my mom for a pen and paper and went up to him. He was gracious and nice, and I'll never forget being in awe of him. There he stood in a jean jacket, t-shirt and blue jeans looking as normal as anyone else in the store. I beamed all the way home from the store!
His career was cut short by injury, but not until he had established himself as a legend. It was a sad day here in Michigan on Monday. We lost a legend. We lost a character. We lost someone that put the Detroit area on his shoulders and held us all up, if only for a year and half.
Mark "The Bird" Fidrych will be missed.