For quite some time I was Mark Fidrych's mailman.
Therefore, I had the honor of seeing a different side of him.
The very definition of the everyman who finds his fifteen minutes of unending fame.
Northboro, Massachusetts. It is a town I know very well. Too well, according to most philosophers. When you have been to the door of every house in the community, you know it too well. For years I was a substitute mail carrier and then I finally had my own mail route. Most of the time when I was "filling in" I was delivering mail to Mark Fidrych, along with the owners of four hundred other mailboxes. However, delivering his mail always was the most remarkable part of the job.
For the first five years I worked for the post office I never had the chance to meet Mark Fidrych. The man who had delivered mail to him for most of his life, a forty year veteran we called "Keigo" would tell me stories I found hard to believe. He told me that Mark Fidrych would come out of his farm, a place known to locals as "The Nest," to dig out the mailboxes of neighbors after a snowstorm. Baseball's 1976 Rookie of the Year. The man who brought the Detroit Tigers' franchise back to life. I found this hard to believe, as a baseball fan who grew up in the seventies and idolized Fidrych as a local from the Worcester, Massachusetts area. Hell, he went to the same high school as the love of my life. What the hell would he be doing digging out mailboxes after a blizzard?
You ever see those big, ugly metal boxes with multiple mailboxes in them at apartment complexes or new housing developments? We used to call them pork boxes at the post office. While regular mailboxes were the responsibility of residents to dig out, the post office had to dig out the pork boxes. It was part of the grand scheme. One day in January of 1995 I was pulling up to one of those pork boxes, looking to see if I could get to it through two feet of snow. There was a big truck parked in front of me, and a crazed looking man with a shovel and long curly hair shoveling snow out of my path. I said hello to him, figuring this was the latest high school drop out to be hired by the post office for this task. Then I realized it was Mark Fidrych. He smiled and apologized for not having finished digging out the mailboxes.
"I'll have this dug out in a couple minutes, sir."
Mark Fidrych was calling me "sir." I didn't know what to say aside from "no problem, I appreciate it." Standing there in my boots with an armful of Rolling Stone and electric bills I could only smile. It was impolite to say, "hey, you're Mark Fidrych, aren't you?" He didn't do this kind of thing because he needed the money. He liked to keep busy, and worked as a contractor in town. After a brilliant rookie season was followed by arm and leg injuries, he often dreamed of a return to the major leagues. Everyone in town knew his story. Sometimes if you went to a local bar he would appear and he would talk. When he was ready to talk, you listened. Otherwise, it was rude to interrogate him. Everyone deserves the right to privacy and anonymity.
Later that year, Mark Fidrych would release a coloring book featuring himself and Big Bird in the story of his baseball life. The proceeds went to charity and Mark appeared at the post office to promote the coloring book and to autograph copies of it for all of us. He called us all by name and wished us well. I shook his hand and tried to look at him as a mortal man, not as someone I thought was a god when I was ten years old.
I left Northboro and the post office in 1997. Keigo retired two years later and I would have had the option to take over his mail route. I would have become Mark Fidrych's mailman. As much as I enjoyed the four or five fan letters and requests for autographs that came down every week, I couldn't do it. To stay with any job for ten years makes it your career and I had bigger plans for my life. I still fondly remember being Mark Fidrych's mailman, but I smile much more broadly when I think about Mark Fidrych saying "he used to be my mail man."
Mark Fidrych died on his farm in Northboro on April 13, 2009 at the age of 54.