The Cautionary Tale of Mark Fidrych
By David Jacobson, Positive Coaching Alliance
For those of us who came of age in the 1970s, thoughts of innocence and experience echoed in the moment of silence before the April 15 Detroit Tigers game in tribute to the late former Tigers pitcher Mark Fidrych. “The Bird,” nicknamed for his resemblance to Sesame Street's Big Bird, epitomized pre-steroid, pre-mega-contract baseball.
His famous antics - kneeling to groom the mound, apparently talking to the ball between pitches - bespoke an exuberant, spontaneous enjoyment of the game. That’s too rarely seen in pro sports these days, and it is a trait that PCA and Little League are working together to preserve at the youth level.
That very joy, which also encompassed the willingness to work hard for an overzealous coach, was Mr. Fidrych's undoing as a pitcher. A rookie at age 21 in 1976, he compiled a 19-9 record, throwing 24 complete games, including five that went into extra-innings. The next season, Mr. Fidrych pitched six straight complete games, suffered an inevitable injury in June, and left baseball almost as suddenly as he arrived.
While we hope that youth athletes share Mr. Fidrych’s innocent, unbridled love of the game, we also hope coaches, parents and athletes heed the cautionary tale of his experience. The joy Mr. Fidrych brought to, and took from, baseball make him seem to be a throwback to simpler, more innocent times, which can lure coaches and parents into a “those-were-the-good-old-days” mentality.
Of course, we can create the “good-old-days” right now through coaching that cultivates the passion and joy of millions of young Fidryches. And, thanks to Little League pitch count rules, we are encouraged to keep players healthy, happy, productive, and in the game…to give and get all the joy it has to offer.
For more ideas on getting the most out of your players while teaching life lessons, take the Little League Double-Goal Coach Course at www.positivecoach.org/LittleLeague.