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Farewell to Fidrych: The Bird Flies Away

Dan PieroniCorrespondent IApril 15, 2009

27 Sep 1999: Mark Fidrych waves to the crowd during the last game played at the Tiger Stadium against the Kansas City Royals in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers defeated the Royals 8-2. Mandatory Credit: Ezra O. Shaw  /Allsport

A person like Mark Fidrych was one in a million.

It isn't often you'd pay to see a baseball player based on his personality quirks.

Beyond his wackiness though Fidrych was a darn good pitcher, and for one season he was baseball's media darling destined to be one of the all-time greats of the game.

Unfortunately, the ride ended far too soon.

Fidrych was a throwback to a simpler time. A kid of modest means who played baseball because he loved it, and was awfully grateful for the opportunity he received.

It was his personality though that made him an icon. No one had ever seen a guy who looked like he belonged in a nut house before.

With his long, curly blond hair, that made him look like Big Bird- hence the nickname,  he actually talked to the baseball as if to will it to be a strike. He'd also be his own personal groundskeeper and groom the mound. He also was not above congratulating his fielders as soon as they made a great play.

His unorthodox ways, and humble demeanor, made him a sensation, and people flocked to ballparks all over the country to see him in action.

Lost in the shuffle of his craziness, was the fact that he could pitch. He won 19 games in 1976, leading the AL in complete games, finishing second in the AL Cy Young voting, and copping a rookie of the year award in the process

Then, in the blink of an eye, it was over.

Fidrych tore cartilage in his knee the next season then tore his rotator cuff shortly afterwards. What followed was a series of failed comeback attempts, including one with the Red Sox.

In August 1982, Fidrych pitched for the Pawtucket Red Sox against the Columbus Clippers and a youngster named Dave Righetti

The allure of the matchup jammed 9,500 people into the stands in a ballpark that could only fit 4,800.

Fidrych gutted out a 9-5 victory in which he went the distance, getting the final out by strikeout with the bases loaded.

It was his last hurrah.

All in all, Mark Fidrych was a friendly, quirky guy who loved to entertain and play baseball.

Sadly, we'll never what he could have been.

His surprising death on Monday morning, brings to mind a quote from Elton John, "fly away, skyline pigeon fly, towards the dreams you left so very far behind."

So ends the life of the Bird. A life of unfulfilled potential that ended far too soon both in baseball and in life.

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