Day of reflection, appreciation in Majors

Day of reflection, appreciation

Major League Baseball's very emotional 2009 season became even more poignant on a truly moving Monday that saw sudden and painful departures, a long-awaited arrival, a soon-to-be-stunning gesture and a memorable on-the-field feat.

Baseball lost two distinct yet very different personalities Monday with the passing of Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas and former Rookie of the Year Mark Fidrych.

Kalas, the 73-year-old Phillies play-by-play man, NFL Films voice and all-around Philadelphia icon, collapsed in the broadcast booth at Nationals Park in Washington and died soon after.

Throughout baseball, fellow Hall of Fame broadcasters, star players and regular fans touched by Kalas' life and work remembered him as a master of his craft and a prince of a man.

"What a sweetheart," said Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who got to know Kalas while skippering the Phillies from 1997-2000. "A voice that is unmatched. ... Philadelphia can be a tough town, but I'm sure they'll really pour out some emotion for Harry."

For many of Kalas' colleagues, it was only fitting that he died doing what he loved to do.

"If anything, it'd be fitting, he loved baseball so much, that he passed away 'on the field,'" former Phillies great Larry Bowa said. "That's what baseball meant to him. It was his life. And he gave you every ounce of his energy every night whether you were winning, whether you were losing."

The same could be said for Fidrych, who passed away at his farm in Massachusetts on Monday at the age of 54.

The curly-haired, always-smiling kid known as "The Bird" achieved iconic status in his magical rookie season of 1976 for the Tigers, bringing equal parts talent and eccentricity to the mound.

He could often be seen having what appeared to be conversations with the stitched, rawhide tool of his trade, and whatever the two were discussing, it worked.

Fidrych went 19-9 with a league-leading 2.34 ERA, won the American League Rookie of the Year Award, packed Tiger Stadium and even made the cover of Sports Illustrated -- along with Big Bird, the Sesame Street character he was nicknamed after.

He never again achieved that level of success in an injury-riddled five-year career, but it didn't matter. His legacy was in tact in the annals of the Grand Old Game.

"What a tremendous, tremendous character for the game of baseball," said a somber Mets manager Jerry Manuel, who played with Fidrych in Detroit.

"I loved the way he approached the game, because to him, it truly was a game," added former big league pitcher Clyde Wright.

"I mean, I never saw a guy have more fun pitching. If guys today could all play baseball and have that much fun doing it, hey, the game would be a lot better."

The game got a lot better Monday as fans of the Mets finally opened their sparkling new stadium, Citi Field.

From the best-of-the-new-and-old architecture that recalls Ebbets Field to the grand rotunda honoring Jackie Robinson to the gourmet food options and stellar sightlines, the park has it all.

And while Monday's game didn't end the way most of the sellout crowd wanted it to -- the Padres beat the Mets, 6-5 -- there was a signature moment, a game-tying three-run home run by David Wright in the fifth inning that marked the first home homer.

"It's something pretty special -- something I'll always remember," Wright said. "But I would have loved to have won."

Fortunately for Wright, the Mets and the rest of Major League Baseball, everyone will win Wednesday.

That's because the league will celebrate the 62nd anniversary of Robinson breaking its color barrier with the unprecedented touch of all uniformed personnel wearing the late Hall of Famer's famous No. 42 on the field.

"April 15, 1947, is a day that resonates with history throughout Major League Baseball," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "With all Major League players, coaches and umpires wearing Jackie's No. 42, we hope to demonstrate the magnitude of his impact on the game of baseball. Major League Baseball will never forget the contributions that Jackie made both on and off the field."

One of the men who has already honored Jackie by wearing the number in previous years when it was optional is new Dodgers second baseman Orlando Hudson.

"It just feels great to put on that Dodgers uniform," Hudson said. "I get to play in the house that Jackie Robinson built. I give my thanks to him because he was looking down on me."

Hudson was referring to the fact that he hit for the cycle Monday in his first game in Dodger Stadium as a member of the home team. He became the first Dodger to accomplish the rare feat since Wes Parker did it in 1970.

In front of his wife, two children and parents, Hudson started out with an infield single in the first inning, hit a solo homer in the third, doubled in the fourth and tripled down the right-field line in the sixth.

"I'm excited," Hudson said, again looking ahead to what promises to be a wonderful Wednesday. "Why wouldn't I be as an African-American myself playing this great game of baseball?"

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.