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04/13/09 11:54 PM ET

Detroit native Smoltz recalls Fidrych

'I watched every game he pitched,' he says of The Bird

OAKLAND - John Smoltz was just 9 years old, but already starting to love baseball. In particular, Smoltz loved his hometown Detroit Tigers.

Mark Fidrych, 1954-2009

During that summer of 1976, one pitcher left an indelible mark on Smoltz. His name? Mark "The Bird" Fidrych.

Like a lot of other people around baseball, Smoltz, the right-hander for the Boston Red Sox, was saddened to hear that Fidrych died in an apparent accident on his Massachusetts farm on Monday. Fidrych was 54 years old.

"I watched every game he pitched," Smoltz said. "It's a sad day for Detroit when you think about what he brought to that city. Excitement and fun -- he packed that stadium. There were more people at his games than any other games. He just brought life to the mound in a way we hadn't seen in a long time."

During that 1976 season, Fidrych went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA, pitching an astounding 24 complete games.

More than what Fidrych did, it was the way he did it.

"I remember going to a game where he pitched 10 or 11 innings against the Yankees," said Smoltz. "He pitched a lot of complete games, a lot of innings. He was always in every game. He didn't have the most dominating stuff but found a way to compete and get the ball to go where he wanted it to."

Fidrych, of course, would often literally talk to the ball between pitches.

"He was everything you could imagine as a kid growing up wanting to see him do well," Smoltz said. "People stayed to watch him pitch, waited until he was done. They gave him standing ovations every chance they could."

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