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home : columns : columns
June 2, 2020

3/25/2020 10:58:00 AM
Seeking (and finding) a smile
This is the third column I've written for this week's editorial page. The first two, needless to say, were filled with anger, frustration, a degree of fear, and depression.
The events of the past week and - here's my fear - coming weeks and likely months left me with little to be chipper. Those first two columns were written, perhaps, to let out everything I've been feeling and, no doubt, you may have been feeling as well. I'm seeing this COVID-19 pandemic affect my friends in very bad ways, as I'm sure you've seen as well.
On Friday, Gov. Tim Walz suggested that Minnesota, at some point, could be following California in calling for a shelter-in-place order. In other words, all of us would be confined to our homes, and would only be allowed out for necessary reasons.
I know, I know, I'm getting to the part where I sought a smile.
After spending most of Thursday writing discarded columns and trying to process this whole thing externally for a few embarrassing moments and internally for much of the day, I got home and sat down to watch TV.
I no longer watch the news because I can't handle all the gloom-and-doom they offer. It's wall-to-wall Coronavirus coverage and I get enough of that at work.
Yes, I'm getting to the smile.
So, I flipped through some channels and settled in at the MLB channel. For those not familiar, that's the Major League Baseball Network. If you have it, this might be a great time to watch it.
I'm a sports history buff. I've read a lot of books on the history of sports, whether it's sports biographies, autobiographies, stories about ball parks, golf tournaments, you name it. In fact, I just finished five books, but that's another column or two.
On Thursday night, the MLB Network ran a highlighted replay of the June 28, 1976, nationally televised game between the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers from Tiger Stadium.
What's significant about a baseball game almost 44 years ago, you ask?
For starters, nationally-televised baseball games in 1976 were almost unheard of. Remember, a majority of the country at that time didn't have cable TV. It was all airwaves TV. We were fortunate in Northwest Iowa, where we got four to six channels, depending on how well your UHF antenna brought in a signal. In Minnesota, you fortunate to get one.
So, this game on ABC was a big deal. Why? Because the rookie phenom was on the mound - Mark "The Bird" Fidrych from Northborough, Mass. For the summer of '76, there wasn't a single ball player more entertaining or enthralling than "The Bird."
I read a great book about Fidrych just a couple of years ago and learned, much to my dismay, that he died well before his time (age 54) in a tragic accident at home.
The Bird was a genuine down-home guy, complete with the Boston accent. He was quirky, talked to the baseball, manicured the pitcher's mound to his liking. He was all arms and legs when he pitched and when a teammate made a great play, he'd go out and shake the teammate's hand. He was a breath of fresh air - a one-of-a-kind that the game hadn't seen before and hasn't seen since.
I watched the highlights from the game and then the MLB Network ran a one-hour retrospect of Fidrych after the game, with Tom Selleck (yes, that Tom Selleck, 1980s Magnum, P.I./2020s N.Y. Police Commissioner Frank Reagan Tom Selleck) providing the narration.
They talked with his daughter, his wife, his sister, community members from Northborough. It was delightful, it was wonderful, it made me forget for a few hours what's going on around us.
There was a story told about Fidrych in which he was working his job many years after he left baseball and a relative newcomer to town came up to him and said, "Hey, you look familiar. Where have I seen you before?" and Mark, in his typical humble manner, said, "Oh, you probably saw me over at (such-and-such place) where I also work." Nothing about baseball and his incredible story.
Just a genuine guy.
Here's my suggestion: If this whole Coronavirus thing has you feeling a little blue, find something on TV that will lift your spirits. Memories of The Bird lifted mine when I needed it most.

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