After baseball deserted him for good, in June 1983, his friends would often find him sitting on a woodpile on his farm, staring deep into nothing. "It's over, it's over, it's over" kept rolling in his head. "Why me? Why me?" Sometimes that question rose in his throat as rage, rage against something too large for a man's bare hands. So he would yank the starter on the chain saw and press its angry teeth into the closest and tallest piece of life he could find, leaning into the cut until he felt the wicked satisfaction of the tree's groan and crash. "I'd say to myself, 'See ya. Chop it down. Next tree. See ya. Chop it down....' "
Once a tree was felled, he would reduce it to 16-inch logs and then, still working frantically, drive the splitting maul through the core. But it wasn't enough. "Why me?" is a question of being, and he lived in a country that had no time for that. "What do you do now?"—the question of doing—is the one Americans always ask, and he didn't know how to answer that. "He refuses to tell people he's a farmer," says a friend.
Two years ago Fidrych and two buddies formed a three-man team for a wood-chopping contest in their little town of Northboro, Mass., and Fidrych got to splitting so frenetically he drove the wedge through his friend's arm, chipping a piece off the bone near the elbow, and then split two more logs before he realized what he had done. The competition was canceled.
Some days Fidrych would leave his chain saw and splitting wedge behind, walk into the woods and scream. Just after the dream year, he had looked down at his hands and told a reporter, "I've got a trade now. These hands are vital. I can't pour cement with these hands." Since he left baseball, those hands have poured cement for swimming pools, cleared lots for new houses, fed pigs and chopped wood. He has sold a pig or cow now and then, or a piece of land that he had bought when he was playing ball. A few times a year, someone pays him to speak at a banquet. For six months last year he was a traveling liquor salesman, but the money and the necktie were no good, so he quit. He doesn't need much, just enough to pay the $6,000 in taxes on his mostly wooded farm, with a little left over for hamburger and beer money—and to have an answer for "What do you do?"
So he sips his beer and talks of plans—to buy a bulldozer, a car mechanic's garage, a gas station, a car wash, a limousine service, a trucking company, or maybe he would become a truck driver, a real estate developer.... "A hundred and fifty ideas going on at once," says Mark Philbin, a friend. "I'll say, 'Slow down, Mahk. What are you talking about?' "
Fidrych was a country boy and maybe chopping wood and pouring pig slop on his own 121-acre farm was more than he ever would have asked for if a dump truck full of fame hadn't pulled up to his life, buried him in it and then left, letting the wind blow it all away. But the dilemma won't go away. "Why do I need big money?" he asks. "I make 18 to 20 thousand a year. You got a thousand dollars, you got a thousand problems. I've always been small. I just want to stay small."
Then a Miller Lite commercial flickers across the TV screen and he flings the back of his hand at the set and growls, "I could be doing one of those goddamn things, too."
This morning he has two big scratches on his neck from hacking at the brush on his land, clearing it for the house he plans to build. He is 31 and it is time he no longer lived with his parents.
Ten a.m. "Maybe the dream is a vibration that I should try to pitch again. There weren't no outside things in the dream, no score, no outcome. Just me, pitching. Just me, playing." He's back in the truck now, heading to Mike's Donut Shoppe in Northboro to get coffee for the three men helping him clear his land; Sasha and Yella are panting in the back. In the truck his mind wanders. Hell, ever since the doc opened up the right shoulder last summer, sewed up the two tears in the rotator cuff and chiseled down the end of the bone sticking up under his armpit, the wing has felt good again. Once more he can open car doors and drink beer with his right hand. He no longer tosses and turns Sasha awake at three in the morning from the pain. "I know I could get a major league hitter out now," he says. "I know it."
Damn, maybe it could be 1976 all over again. Remember that?