In a few days time, Major League Baseball has lost three members of its baseball family, all three of which were memorable talents in different respects, but all will be missed, mourned and remembered.
The Angles' top prospect and starting pitcher Nick Adenhart, the Phillies longtime broadcaster Harry Kalas, and former Tiger phenom Mark “The Bird” Fidrych all passed away this past week.
The three, at different stages of life, were all admired by teammates and friends as special people, not just for their special talents.
Adenhart was at the beginning of his promising career; Fidrych was, at 54, in middle age; and Kalas at 73, was close to retirement as he finished up a legendary broadcasting career.
Nick Adenhart (1986-2009)
Adenhart was killed tragically in a hit-and-run accident caused by a drunk driver that also killed two other passengers in the vehicle Adenhart was traveling in.
The drunk driver has since been charged with three counts of murder, and faces other charges as well.
At 22, Adenhart had just begun his major league career, entering the season ranked as the Angels' top prospect by Baseball America. In his first start of 2009, he pitched six strong innings against the Oakland A’s and looked like he was ready to deliver on the predicted stardom.
Adenhart was drafted in the 14th round of the 2004 MLB Draft, fresh out of Williamsport High School in Maryland. He was projected as one of the top five picks, but hurt his elbow two weeks before the draft and needed Tommy John surgery to repair the injury.
He fought back from the injury to become the Angels' top prospect going into the 2009 season, and on a staff that was riddled by injuries, his strong spring had boosted the team's regular-season hopes.
His personality in the clubhouse was embraced by his teammates. Former minor league and current major league teammate, shortstop Brandon Wood, said, "I never met anyone who didn’t like Nick."
Harry Kalas (1936-2009)
On clear nights during the summer in Southern Connecticut, if you played with the dial, you could pick up the Philadelphia Phillies' radio broadcast.
Transplanted Phillie fan, you ask? Hardly.
The reason I listened was to hear the great Harry Kalas work his magic in calling a game.
If you appreciate baseball on the radio, like the Dodgers' Vin Scully, Kalas was a pleasure to listen to. He had one of the greatest and most recognizable voices in sports, if not in all of broadcasting. His "outta here" call of Phillie home runs became a staple.
Kalas joined the Phillies' broadcast team in 1971 and remained its voice until his death on on Monday. His career spanned farther than Phillies' Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt's major league career, as Kalas called every one of Schmidt's 548 career home runs.
Kalas collapsed in the press box prior to the Phillies-Nationals game in Washington D.C., and was rushed to the hospital, but was pronounced dead shortly after arriving.
Many fans will also remember Kalas and his distinct tone as a voice over narrator for NFL films.
Past and present Phillies' players and employees spoke about Kalas as a friend and as someone who brought a smile to your face each time you saw him.
"We lost our voice," said Phillies team president David Montgomery.
Mark Fidrych (1954-2009)
Mark Fidrych exploded into the MLB in what has become one of the most memorable rookie season of all time.
Fidrych died at his home in Northborough, Mass., on Monday while working on his dump truck at the age of 54.
Fidrych, nicknamed “The Bird” because of his resemblance to the Sesame Street character, would manicure the pitching mound with his hands before innings and talk to the ball before pitches. He would enthusiastically shake the hand of teammates that had made a good play while he was on the mound.
He became an instant star at a time when baseball had few characters like him.
He went 19-9 in his rookie season, pitched an impressive 24 complete games, and had a league-leading 2.34 ERA.
He won Rookie of the Year and was the starting pitcher for the American League in the All-Star game. He drew record crowds in Detroit and wherever he appeared, despite pitching for team with a losing record.
During the 1977 season, he suffered knee and arm injuries and was never the same.
Fidrych would only win 10 more games in his career, and will go down in history as the most famous and remembered pitcher to finish with 29 career wins, but it was as much for his demeanor and sense of humor than his skills as a pitcher.
Fidrych gave us some memorable sound bytes, and among them, he was once quoted as saying, "Sometimes I get lazy and let the dishes stack up, but they don’t stack up too high. I only have four dishes.”
He also said, "When you’re a winner, you are always happy, but if you’re are happy as a loser, you will always be a loser."
Mark Fidrych was no loser.
It's been a tough few days for the baseball community.
Wins and the losses have been secondary to the loss of three of its family.