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Mark Fidrych

Ed Markowski

One of Us

My wife was playing roulette. Our friends, Steve and Anna, were somewhere in the room trying to beat the house, on a rainy night at the Leelanau Sands Casino.

I was sitting at the bar listening to an old woman explain the finer points of blackjack when I noticed him windmill past the wheel of fortune. He was wearing grey pinstripe shorts and a matching baseball jersey. His white sneakers were dotted with mud from the casino parking lot.

Standing next to the old woman, he ordered a beer and a bag of potato chips. I thought I recognized him, but he looked the way all of us looked during the demise of Nixon and the dawn of Carter. He twisted the cap off the beer, tucked the chips in his back pocket, and vanished back into the smoky room.

Midway through another Molson, Anna walked up to the bar holding a quart sized cup filled with coins. "I hit the lucky devil for eight-hundred quarters, and Steve wants you at the poker table, he said it's an emergency."

When I found the poker table, a red vest was raking Steve's bet across the green felt. "You know who that guy is shoot- ing craps over there?" Steve asked, pointing to the baseball jersey I'd seen at the bar.

"I saw him twenty minutes ago, and I thought he looked familiar."

Glancing at the man again, I noticed he was talking to the dice as he wound up to throw them. Right then, I knew.

That summer at our house in Ann Arbor had seemed endless: great films, poetry, beautiful girls, and baseball. When Mark Fidrych, aka "The Bird," pitched, the porch was packed.

We watched him make his national television debut on a Philco black and white, in box seats that John had found in a tunnel at the stadium.

We expected him to pull rabbits out of his hat, and he did. He beat the Yankees that night with a slider that broke the wrists of every hitter.

We watched every game he pitched. It was so easy to envision one of us, one of the guys on the porch, standing out there on the mound in Tiger Stadium.

Even though that summer seemed endless, we knew time was flying, because our baseball heroes weren't our grand-fathers or fathers anymore. They were us. At the end of that glorious bicentennial season, he was 19 and 9. Rookie of the year. Just one of the long-haired guys drinking a beer on the porch in Ann Arbor.

In July of 1977, I was driving to a writing seminar in Boulder, Colorado. Just outside of Ottumwa, Iowa, I picked up WJR from Detroit on the car radio. Ernie Harwell's voice, dim but clear in the cornsilk sunset, said, "Houk took him out in the fourth...a recurrence of the shoulder injury he suffered...after he hurt his knee in spring training."

The next morning in Central City, Nebraska, I bought a Rocky Mountain News from a paper box on a dusty street corner. On page five of the sports section there were three brief lines describing his shoulder injury. And, that was his career.

Now, twenty years -- almost to the day -- after the shoulder injury, I was standing behind him at a craps table in Northern Michigan. I tapped that shoulder.

"I just want to thank you for '76."

He turned abruptly and smiled. "Why man? We were lousy that year. We didn't win many games."

My wife walked up, and I introduced her. He pumped her hand the way he used to pump the hands of his infielders when they made a play.

"Why'd you marry this guy?
he asked her. "He actually paid money to watch the '76 Tigers play." Then he turned to me and laughed, "Come on, why'd you like that team?"

"Because, you guys were fun. A hippie pitcher, and a convict in centerfield. It's hard to explain, but you were just one of us."

"I still am," he answered. "The only difference is that I had a whole year in the sun, and most people don't get a minute. Hey man, I got to be Dizzy Dean for a whole summer. You know, I beat the odds once in my life."

The roll came back to him. He shook the dice in his right hand and shouted, "Seven baby, come on, gimme a seven!" A four came up.

©2004 by Ed Markowski

Ed Markowski lives and writes in Auburn Hills, Michigan. His work has been published in The Birmingham Poetry Review, Sho, The Elysian Fields Quarterly, Fan Magazine, and Modern Haiku. Haiku Sun Zine's January issue (#10) featured Ed's short poetry exclusively.

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