After two years in the minors, the dream year came. His father, his shirt buttons straining to accommodate his pride, shuttled to and from Detroit to watch his boy pitch.
By the end of the year, Mark was asking a doctor for something to calm his nerves. "Next year I hope a kid comes along that does better than me," he said then. "Then they'll leave me alone."
A few months later, in March of '77, a fly ball arced toward him and Rusty Staub in the Lakeland outfield.
"You want this one, Rusty?"
"No, kid. You take it."
Exuberantly, as he did everything on a ball field, he streaked beneath the towering fly ball. His left knee popped, tearing cartilage. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED decided not to run his picture on the cover of its baseball issue that year. "What kinda horsebleep's that?" he said. "So I got hurt. I ain't dead. I'll never talk to those bastards again. People using me, man. I'm sick of people using me."
He cried in his hospital bed, as security guards kept the anxious, overwrought fans away. "I've gotta fight back," he said. "Baseball is my whole life. It's the only thing I know."
Ten days after he returned from the disabled list, his right shoulder popped. He went 6-4 that season, plagued by arm pain, and the dream was gone. In his rage he broke the washer and dryer in the Tiger laundry room, then, stricken with remorse, fell to his knees and fixed them.
Nobody knew what caused the crippling pain, but many suspected it was Fidrych's overeagerness to be a superstar pitcher again, that he'd begun throwing too hard too soon after he had injured the knee. "Maybe it was my stupidity," he says. "I kept throwing. I didn't want to give up. If you can't perform, you're gone, so you fool them as much as you can. I had to. I saw what was going on in my life."
Most of the next six years were spent in the minors—the last year and a half with Boston's Triple A team in Pawtucket, R.I. He tried doctors, osteopaths, chiropractors, hypnotists and psychologists, long rests and no rests. He gulped aspirin and anti-inflammation pills by the handful and rubbed all sorts of strange substances on his arm. Fans called and wrote in with miracle cures, suggesting that he stick the troubled arm into a swarm of bees, that he pack it in red Florida clay. An old man with arthritis-swollen knuckles drove to Northboro from New Jersey to give him some red gook that smelled like kerosene. All the old guy wanted was for Fidrych to sign a contract guaranteeing him 10% of his salary once Mark was healed. Fidrych signed the contract, but the stuff only made the shoulder stink as well as hurt.