By Michael Gelbwasser, Contributing Writer
Northborough – This summer, a softball tournament continuing Mark Fidrych’s commitment to special needs children and adults raised $55,000.
The Mark Fidrych Foundation now is planning its fifth annual Make Your Mark Softball Tournament for Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, at the Memorial and Casey fields on East Main Street, according to Fidrych’s widow, Ann.
Mark Fidrych was “intimately involved with the Michigan Special Olympics,” serving as honorary chair of the Wertz Warriors group for several years, before his April 13, 2009 accidental death at his Northborough home, Ann said.
The Warriors do “ceremonial runs throughout Michigan to collect funds that have been raised during the year for Special Olympics,” Ann explained. They present a check, typically totaling $250,000 to $350,000, to the Michigan Special Olympics Winter Games during the opening ceremonies. The 2010 Winter Games were commemorated to Mark, Ann noted.
About a year after Mark’s death, Ann and their daughter Jessica decided to “try to continue some of the work that he was doing, specifically with special needs children and adults.”
According to its website, the nonprofit Mark Fidrych Foundation’s mission includes “enhancing the lives of children and adults with disabilities and/or special needs through and with a focus on sports and sports education and various other means of promoting, maintaining, improving and creating opportunities and benefits aimed at improving the lives of such individuals.” The foundation officially formed in 2012.
Mark’s interest in helping people with special needs “was a natural. He truly was a natural at connecting with anyone,” Ann said. “He would help anyone, no matter what it was. It could’ve been shoveling their driveway because their snow blower broke down. Whatever happened, he was always there. Someone calling him in the middle of the night because their car rolled into the woods. He’d go and get his chains out and pull them out.”
Mark “The Bird” Fidrych was known among baseball fans for pitching for the Detroit Tigers from 1976 to 1980. He was the American League’s Rookie of the Year in 1976. He also was an American League All-Star that year.
“He was a country boy, and he became a country man who really loved the community he grew up in, and loved people, loved life, and gave back,” his wife said. “He believed in that selfless contribution to the community. We felt that his life was cut short too soon, and we wanted to continue his legacy of giving back to the community.”
The foundation held its first softball tournament in 2011, with the Genesis Fund, which supports “children and adults with congenital abnormalities,” and which Mark supported, Ann said.
“Softball is great because there are a lot of groups that are doing softball that have special needs,” she said.
This year’s Make Your Mark single-elimination softball tournament, held Aug. 23, included 12 teams, each of which was sponsored. Face painting and a balloon artist were among the additional activities offered. A silent auction was new this year, and began during the tournament’s Aug. 16 kickoff at Chet’s Diner, which Jessica operates, Ann said. The tournament raised $55,000 this year, the bulk of which will go to grants.
Foundation leaders have discussed holding a winter fundraiser, such as a bowling or pool event as, Ann noted, Mark enjoyed both sports.
“You want to pull people in, engage the community,” Ann said.