Saturday, June 04, 2005
As you may or may not know, I'm spending this summer interning for the Mass Audobon Society, illustrating a botanical survey of the Joppa Flats salt marshes and brackish pools (bear with me here, kids). It's a very cool internship, exactly the right mix of biological research and artwork for me, and it's a very cool group of people I get to work with.
The one I work the most with is the guy in charge of the internship program, such as it is. Jock (his nickname) is a retired doctor who took up birding and knows quite a bit about it, and the local flora, and, as it happens, baseball. Every time we meet up he starts out by asking me if I saw the latest game, and if I have but he hasn't he asks how our pitching was, and if he did see it we discuss how everyone looked, and he's taken to introducing me to people as a Red Sox fan.
For instance, today I met the landscape maintenance guy, Al, a venerable old New Englander in every way, who wages a deeply personal battle with his nemeses on the flats (phragmites, and vineweed, and Japanese knotweed), wielding an industrial pair of hedge clippers. Anyways, I was introduced to Al as 'the summer intern, a third-year student at the University of Michigan who's majoring in art and zoology, and she's a big Red Sox fan'.
Everyone who's been a baseball fan for a long time has good baseball stories, but Jock has some excellent ones. For one thing, back when he was practicing he was friends with a lot of other doctors in the area, including some of the Red Sox trainers. The story of the doctor who was working with Roger Clemens and tried to catch him as part of a rehab was a good one-- the back wall of the room they were working in, as one might expect, ended up filled with holes.
He also apparently lives in the same town as Mark Fidrych, the Bird, the famous Tigers pitcher who astounded the league in 1976 to the tune of a 19-9 record, a 2.34 ERA, 24 complete games, and a Rookie of the Year award, only to be plagued by injuries immediately thereafter and disappear from baseball.
Of course, what we all know The Bird best for was his crazy behavior. He talked to the ball on the mound, telling it where to go. He liked to groom the mound himself, brushing the dirt into a state that pleased him. He ran around high-fiving his teammates after particularly good defensive plays.
I forget how it came up today, but I mentioned that I was a fan of the Tigers as well as the Red Sox, and Jock asked if I knew Mark Fidrych. I allowed as how I knew the name, and he launched into an amusing anecdote about The Bird being sent home to Northboro (where he now lives) to rest and attempt to rehab his arm, and The Bird getting home and going out and doing some work for his friend's masonry company, chipping away old mortar from bricks that were going to be reused until the pain in his elbow got too great to continue. Jock, the doctor, shook his head while relating this tale, clucking his tongue over how there was hardly a worse motion for someone trying to rehab an elbow to be doing, but that was The Bird for you.
These days, according to Jock, The Bird has a sizable farm and a truck he uses to haul things around and make some money on the side-- a "great big immaculate truck". In '82 and '83 he tried a comeback with the PawSox but couldn't make his arm do it. Jock sees him around town sometimes, "looking like Ichabod Crane", and says that he seems content to be out of baseball, that he thinks he "was always a bit of a farmer at heart".
"I'd like a motorcycle, but I'd really like to drive a truck. An old beat-up one. That's me. I'm a truck man."
The Bird said that back in 1976.
It's nice to see that, even with his supremely promising career cut short so starkly, he still apparently got his wish.