The Red Sox AA affiliate played in my hometown (Bristol, CT) for a few years in the early 80s before moving to New Britain, and a bunch of prominent future Red Sox (Wade Boggs, Oil Can Boyd, Marty Barrett, Bob Stanley, etc.) played for the team for at least a short time. When I was a kid, they used to put on a charity softball game in town where former major leaguers would play personalities from ESPN (since it was in town) and other media outlets. The field where the game was held, and where I would later play high school ball, was this neat old field built near the beginning of the century. As a result, you were fairly close to the field and got to talk to all the players.
One year, when I was about 10 or 11, a family friend was asked to be the honorary third base coach. Knowing that I was a big baseball fan, he worked it out so that we could walk on the field before the game, watch the guys getting ready, and meet a bunch of the players. It was great; some of the players (Luis Tiant, Ozzie Virgil and Bob Stanley) were incredibly nice, and some others (Jim Rice and Bill Buckner) were rude or dismissive.
One person who stuck out especially though was Mark Fidrych. He stopped warming up and talked to my mom and I for about 10 minutes. He was impressed that I knew so much about his career (I was a bit of a baseball nerd even at that age), and he talked about being in the majors, making the All-Star team, and how lucky he was to be a major leaguer for even a short time. For a kid like me, getting to talk with a former big leaguer was a dream, and I was walking on air the rest of the day.
In talking to sportswriters and other people inside baseball in the years following that encounter, I found out that it really wasn't out of the ordinary. Fidrych was an incredibly kind person, and someone who realized how lucky he was to play in the majors.
So it was that I was sad to hear that Mark passed away yesterday after an apparent accident at his farm. It's a tragic loss, as he leaves behind a wife and a daughter. It's also tragic because the world lost a kind person far too soon.