With all due respect to the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter, it seems a huge opportunity is being pissed away by not having Dontrelle Willis start for the NL in tomorrow’ night’s All Star Game. Currently toiling in a football town/stadium, the D-Train would make the mania surrounding Fernando Valenzuela or Dwight Gooden seem quaint by comparison were he doing his thing on a bigger stage. Kind of like the reception afforded Mark Fidrych, recalled lovingly by the Detroit News’ Mike O’Hara.
By the time he turned 22 on Aug. 14, 1976, Mark Fidrych had become a national celebrity — some would say a national treasure.
As a rookie pitcher with the Tigers, Fidrych won games and performed with a natural spontaneous combustion of joy and energy that seemed to explode from him on every pitch.
The world knew him as “The Bird,” and on this steamy summer night, it was appropriate that the fans in the ballpark serenaded the beloved young icon with a chorus of “Happy Birthday.”
“They put it on the scoreboard — ‘What baseball player’s birthday is today?’ ” Fidrych said the other day, smiling at the memory. ” ‘Mark Fidrych.’ ”
One detail made the event all the more remarkable. The Tigers were in Kansas City, not Detroit.
Fidrych was that popular and that good. He packed stadiums with fans and lit them up with his charisma. His long, curly hair and prominent nose had given him the nickname “The Bird.” He talked to the ball and patted the mound, smoothing the dirt to get the right footing. He threw strikes and worked fast, as if he couldn’t wait to get another batter out.
It was natural. Fans know a phony when they see one, and they knew The Bird was the real thing.