Mike Cramer and I grew up in suburban Detroit when Mark "The Bird" Fidrych burst onto the sports scene. Tall, lanky, long-haired and filled with quirks, the Bird captured the imagination of both kids and adults during his time with the Detroit Tigers. His career was brief but spectacular. He won Rookie of the Year in 1976, but an misdiagnosed arm injury the following year hindered his performance for the rest of his career. Several attempted comebacks fell short and Fidrych pitched his last Major League game in 1980.
In 1976, Fidrych was famous for both his pitching prowess (he started the All-Star game and was runner-up in the Cy Young voting as a rookie) and for his on-field personality. I saw him pitch once that year. I was 14 years old and I remember well his enthusiasm for the game. He would talk to the baseball between pitches and sometimes he would get down on his hands and knees to smooth out the dirt of the mound. He never hid his joy after getting a batter out or retiring a side or winning a game.
Now Mike Cramer has a film which features Mark Fidrych and the effect he had on a young boy in suburban Detroit - an effect The Bird still had when the boy grew up and struggled with his empty life at middle age and set out across the country to find the answers from his boyhood hero.
Mike's movie - Dear Mr. Fidrych - debuts this Friday night June 26 at the Detroit-Windsor International Film Festival.
Mr. Fidrych will not be in attendance. The Bird passed away less than three months ago, killed while working alone on a dump truck on his Massachusetts farm.
But the Bird is in this film and I believe he will be at this screening in spirit. I hope you go watch it. The Bird and the movie may inspire you the way he inspired me when I was a kid; the way he inspired Mike Cramer and the boy turned man of the movie. Maybe he'll inspire a generation of sports fans and movie fans who never got a chance to see him.
Maybe this is the comeback that baseball denied The Bird.