April 13, 2009

My Grandpa: 1 – The Bird: 0

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.

sc001e295a.jpgI’ll certainly have more on The Bird this week, but I will share my single memory of Fidrych and his magical 1976 season.

My parents had tickets for one of the most dazzling games of that year: August 17, Detroit native Frank Tanana and the Angels against Fidrych and the Tigers at Tiger Stadium.

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.

5 Comment(s)

  1. Carol Campau | Apr 14, 2009 | Reply

    Priceless memories – wonderfully written, Mike. (Log cabin, Yuck!) May he rest in peace. Hopefully he realized how many great memories he inspired!

  2. Jim Craddock | Apr 14, 2009 | Reply

    Well done, Mike. Ironically, that is the one Fidrych game I went to that year.

  3. KalineCountry | Apr 14, 2009 | Reply

    Nice story Mike, brings me back many years, when nothing was more special than an ice cream sundae with my grandpa and an afternoon of playing backgammon.

  4. CA Sister | Apr 14, 2009 | Reply

    Mike~You were the first person I thought of when I heard the news … thanks for sharing that great story, Tears :o(

  5. patrick | Apr 18, 2009 | Reply

    It was nice to read Bruce Kimm’s thoughts on Fidrych.

    Having grown up in Toledo, I became a Tigers fan pretty early in life, and I feel quite lucky to have had grown up with the likes of Kaline and Horton and Northrup and Stanley and McAullife and Lolich and (yes) McLain (et al) from the 1968 champions and Trammel and Whittaker and Morris and Wilcox and Parrish (et al) from the 1984 champions.

    There is something about not having George Steinbrenner as owner for which I am very much appreciative. For somehow, having to suffer from year to year with an all-too-often also-ran as my favourite team makes the winning all the sweeter, and the rise of someone like Fidrych all the more special.

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