Category Archives: the Bird

RIP the Bird

photo by Samara Pearlstein

Mark ‘the Bird’ Fidrych was one of the most awesome personalities to ever wear the Olde English D. His tenure with the team was short– he pitched in 20+ games only once, in his rookie year– but intense, with an All Star trip and Rookie of the Year honors coming together in that 1976 season. He was second in Cy Young voting that year with a 2.34 ERA and a 19-9 record. People flocked to the ballpark specifically to see him.

Injuries cut his career short after that, but he remained in the collective Detroit Tigers consciousness, in part because his sudden rise to prominence was such a captivating story, and in part because he was awesomely crazy. He was famous for getting down on all fours and grooming the pitcher’s mound with his hands. He would talk to the ball during his starts. He also had glorious hair (a look that you will note is coming back into baseball fashion today).

The Bird was originally from Northborough, Massachusetts, and returned there after his baseball career had ended. He had a farm and a truck– in fact, he so loved the truck that that was how Massachusetts people who lived in his area described him. “Hey, didja know, Mahk Fidrych lives ’round heah, he has a truck, yanno.” Precisely what he did with the truck (towing? hauling?) was never made clear to me, but people were very emphatic about the truck itself. He would occasionally show up at Fenway when the Tigers were playing, which is where I saw him.

It is no stretch to say that it is unlikely we will see someone like the Bird in Detroit again anytime soon. He may not have been with the Tigers for very long, but the mark he made on the imagination of Tigers fans even long after his career had ended is indelible.

Today the Bird was found dead at his home in Northborough. Early reports indicate that he died while working on his truck. He was 54.

ETA: I suggest a memorial to one of the best things about him– his ability to bring fun to a sometimes deeply (some would say ‘overly’) serious sport. Baseball is, after all, a game, and it’s SUPPOSED to be fun; Fidrych understood that.

So, tomorrow, go out and do a little something ‘willfully eccentric’ (thanks for the phrase, commenter Matt). Talk to your car. Groom the seat of your office chair with your hands. Change pens because the old one doesn’t have enough great ideas in it. Smile at yourself a little, and think of the Bird.

Roar of the Tigers at Fenway: Game 1 of 3

OK. I have collected my thoughts and uploaded my photos and now, the game. All photos in here can and probably should be clicked for the bigger view. If you want to cut to the chase, all the shots from the game are right here. Oh, and I shouldn’t even have to say this, but you know, feel free to download the photos and enjoy them and whatnot, but if you’re gonna post them on your blog/website, please just drop a link of credit either to here or my Flickr page. It’s just common internet courtesy. You all already knew that.

Since I can’t go to BP today and I don’t know what the deal on Wednesday is going to be, I dragged my friend Jess (who is a Red Sox fan and puts up with me only because we’ve been friends since before either one of us could walk) to Fenway as early as possible. We got there about 10 minutes before the gates opened, which gave us a chance to look around at the already-considerable crowd. Although the majority, of course, were in Red Sox gear, there were a good number of Tigers hats and jerseys floating around. Certainly more than last year. I had on my neon orange Tigers hat and my Ingecredible! shirt. I had my camera. I was READY.

We immediately went down to the field to see what was going on. The Red Sox were just finishing up their BP, so most everyone was over on their side of the field and we were able to snag spots on the back of the Tigers dugout with relative ease. I started pointing out Tigers to Jess in a running commentary. “That’s Craig Monroe and that’s Todd Jones, he’s the closer, and that’s Pudge over there by Ortiz and that’s Brandon Inge and there’s Jeremy Bonderman and I think that’s Gene Lamont and oh look that’s John Keating, he’s like, um, he’s like Tom Caron on NESN only for FSN Detroit, oh hey there’s Justin Verlander.” Bless her heart, she at least acted interested. I was mostly rambling because being in a position to take photos of baseball players that close up makes me insane. Uh, more insane than usual.

The unintended consequence of this was that I was overheard by the kids who were standing near me. These kids show up at baseball games armed with childish wiles and an unquenchable thirst for autographs. We call them the little autograph hounds. They have Goals. They want This Player and That Player and they will do anything to get those signatures. These kids are DRIVEN. They also freak me the hell out, but maybe that’s just me.

They’re usually all local fans and don’t particularly care about the players whose signatures they’re begging for. Since these particular urchins were Red Sox fans, they also didn’t even recognize many of the Detroit players. Most of these kids could pick out Pudge and Dmitri (although I heard a couple yelling at Fernando Rodney and calling him Dmitri… only off by like a foot and a half, guys!), but they didn’t know anyone else.

So as I was pointing out Tigers to Jess, these ravenous little beasts were listening. The one next to me turned around, eyes wide and innocent. He showed me a ball he had gotten signed by David Ortiz. He wanted signatures from Pudge and Verlander. What a cute kid, right? I AM NOT FOOLED. I KNOW YOUR WAYS, AUTOGRAPH HOUND.

“Hey. Are you from Detroit?”

I explained that I was from around here, but my family was from Detroit and I went to school out there.

“Cool. So who’s that?”

And we were off. I spent the rest of the time shooting and identifying Tigers for a small collection of kids who would then immediately begin calling to the player. We’d see a guy walking towards the dugout (and therefore us) and the kid would say, “Who’s that? Who’s that?” I’d say, “Oh, that’s Placido Polanco,” and the kids would, in a piping chorus, start shouting, “Mr. Polanco! Mr. Polanco!”, waving the baseballs they wanted signed like air traffic controller lightsticks.

Autographs are fun and all (last year I got Jason Johnson, Vic Darensbourg and Curtis Granderson to sign my program basically just by standing there and saying their names), but this signature-begging act is way too absurd for me. I just like to stand there and take photos.

All this was fairly exciting, but not nearly as exciting as when a curly head of hair popped out of the Tigers dugout and wandered over towards the batting cage. At first I only noticed the curls and the loud shirt and didn’t pay him any mind, thinking (I am ashamed of this) that it was only Dan Shaughnessy. Then he turned around.


IT WAS THE BIRD!

The Bird! Wearing a shirt printed all over with sharks and messing with the guys waiting to hit, chucking baseballs at the coach pitching to them. I know he’s from Massachusetts originally and lives here now, so I guess he just decided that as this was the only time the Tigers come to Fenway this season he may as well show up at the game. To say that I freaked out was an understatement. THE BIRD!

Meanwhile Justin Verlander, looking charmingly awkward, was getting interviewed by Tina Cervasio of NESN. They obligingly conducted their interview right on the dugout rail, so I got some shots of him. Tigerlicious delight. Leyland kept popping up and down the dugout steps. Carlos Guillen was signing for a whole bunch of kids further down the wall. The kids next to me kept saying, “Who’s that? Who’s that?”

Then, directly in front of us, two older-looking heads appeared on the rail. The kids must have assumed they were just coaches (boring) and thus not worth bothering. Just then Pudge came up to the wall away from the dugout and everyone leapt over seats and railings to beg for his autograph. “Mr. Rodriguez! Mr. Rodriguez!”

I snapped a couple shots of Pudge, then looked back over at the guys right in front of us. I did a double-take. I grabbed Jess by the arm.

“HOLY CATS. It’s John Henry and Dave Dombrowski!”


So it was.

They were just hanging out there, watching BP and chatting. Catching up from their Marlins days, I assume. I took a few photos because, even though they were right there, I didn’t want to say anything. They were deep in conversation and didn’t look like they wanted to be bugged; they mostly had their backs to the stands and seemed to be working on the assumption that they wouldn’t be recognized. I respect that, yo. That’s why I like taking photos– it’s a nice, unobtrusive way to spazz the f’ out about the fact that the owner and GM of your two favorite teams are standing right in your face.

Of course nothing escapes the autograph hounds for too long. After about 20 minutes one of the little grubs finally wigged to who he was looking at and started yelling, “Mr. Henry! Mr. Henry!” Waving a baseball around in the air, of course. Henry and Dombrowski quickly shook hands and Henry disappeared into thin air, a trick that everyone in the Red Sox front office has to master in order to survive here. Dombrowski turned to go back down into the Tigers dugout.

Figuring, What the hell, I called out, “Great job with the team this year, Dave!”

He looked up, slightly startled and amused. I really don’t think he expected anyone to recognize him in Fenway. He smiled, said, “Thanks!”, and away he went.

To say that this made my month would be highly accurate. I am that easily pleased.

Same deal with Vance Wilson. He was heading down into the dugout and I yelled, “Hi Vance!”, because I am a genius and that is what I thought to yell when I saw him. I believe I threw in a cheesy little wave. There was a second where he was almost completely thrown that someone, in Fenway, knew his name (when he didn’t have his game jersey on yet), and he stopped at the top of the steps for a second. Sounding somewhere between gratified and amused he said, “Hi!” back.

We also got a smile from Roman Colon (I yelled something along the lines of, “Hey, keep it up, Roman!”) and a stare from Omar Infante, who saw me pointing my camera in his direction.

And, of course, I took about a thousand photos of Brandon Inge. I think I showed great restraint in not uploading them all. He didn’t come over to the dugout at any point when we were there; this is probably for the greater good of the Universe, because cat knows what sort of insane reaction may have occurred.

As for the game, you all know what happened. Granderson’s leadoff triple was amazing. Beckett just never located much all game, although I was disturbed to see that despite his attempts to run up his own pitch count, several Tigers were STILL SWINGING AT THE FIRST PITCH.

Zumaya was crazy to watch. It seems like lots of people in Fenway hadn’t heard of him, because when he first came out and starting throwing, the entire crowd began muttering and oohing and aaahing. It was pretty funny.

Again, all the photos are here and you should go see them because I haven’t posted nearly all of them here, and they are full of Tiger goodness.

But, I must run, I have to meet my friend Beth at 6 for tonight’s game. Game 2 to come!