"Will the fans in the right field bleachers please sit closer together so that more people can get in the ball park," blared the public address announcement here this evening, long before game time.
Could this be Memorial Stadium, the park that could not sell out World Series game? Indeed it was. The Fidrych Fenomenon arrived here for the first time for this Independence Day.
Perhaps the Birds cannot fill this ball yard to capacity, but The Bird can.
In fact, the Detroit Tigers have become the first next-to-last-place club on record that is almost certain it will draw a full house every fifth day. It has botten to be "no big deal" as Mark Fidrych, the Tigers' colorful pitcher likes to say.
"Right now, I'm the magnet," said Fidrych.
If any further proof of Fidrych's appeal was needed, Baltimore gave it today. This tight-fisted, hard-to-please town had purchased every available ticket more than four hours before game time and gobbled up those bleacher seats as soon as the gates opened.
When Fidrych's personal catcher, Bruce Kimm, the man who only plays when the famous mound monologist pitches, took the field to play pepper, his teammates howled, "That Kimm can really pack 'em in the seats. They come from far and wide to see the scrappy backstop."
Kimm gave a sheepish laugh, but it is really the entire Tiger ball club that has become the hard-ball equivalent of "The Bird and his Flock."
Fidrych is now a special event, like a rock concert or the July 4th fireworks display that followed this game.
"Other great pitchers drew big crowds on the road to see them get beaten, but people get so caught up in the Bird's enthusiasm that they start cheering for him more than the home team," marveled Tiger Rusty Staub.
It is probably good that so many Baltimoreans came to see Fidrych pitch his first game ever here. Already, in the one year since he was last seen in Birdland, the 22-year-old has changed enormously.
Last July 1 only 8,000 showed up to watch Fidrych gallop his wind sprints in the outfield and sit all might on the Tiger dugout step and yell non-stop maniac encouragement to his mates.
Fidrych could be himself then, grinning spontaneously for authograph seekers, hanging from his locker like a rag doll while he was interviewed. He was a freshly minted Fenomenon then, just a few days past his first national TV game.
Tonight when Fidrych first popped his head into the dugout, fans leaned over the roof, begging, "Mark, Mark, Mr. Fidrych, hey Mark, ol' buddy." Anything to catch his eye. He retreated to the subterranean clubhouse and "the trainer's room. "The Bird's feathers are ruffled," said a teammate.
By game time the mania had spread so far that perhaps 50 fans had climbed shoulders to perch birdlike on a 10-foot-high fence nearly a quarter-mile away on 36th Street beyond the center field fence.
"You can already see that Fidrych is doin' less of that stuff that the fans love," said Earl Weaver. "He says he saw himself on TV for the first time over the winter and it probably embarrassed him some.
"He still talks to himself, but you don't see him running around the infield as much, shaking everybody's hand."
"It's true," said Staub, a bit sadly. "You can tell he's holding himself in now sometimes. But when the game gets tight his concentration is so imtense that he's still liable to do anything."
Perhaps more of a loss than a few familiar mound antics, is the way Fidrych has voluntarily muzzled himself.
Many baseball people have let Fidrych know that they thought he came out looking, in Staub's words, "like a real dummy," in a 240-page question-and-answer style book that he collaborated on.
"The book left in every you know," and "ain't,'" said Staub. "The writer (Tom Clark) is some kind of poet and maybe he thinks Mark talks like an authentic Huck Finn, but baseball people aren't going to see it that way."
That recently published book - "No Big Deal" - may be an authentic document in cultural pop history, but it also exposes more about a mind nourished on TV and rock 'n rool than those who care for Fidrych might want revealed.
The Phase I fidrych, the man-child folk hero, has come into clear focus just as the man behind the bird is being forced to row up quickly and in public.
The Fidrych who drew more than 50,000 people here tonight is a combination of a navie, but perceptive Huck Finn, mixed with a disturbing dahs of the hyperactive Jimmy Piersall. Fidrych, the clubhouse nonstop talker, has some of the endearing qualities of Ring Lardner's classic minor-league rube - The Busher - mixed with the comfounding syntex and high-voltage energy of Jack Keromac's brilliant, profane, solipsistic sidekick Dean Mociarty, the hero of the first beatnik novel, "On the Road."
It is this unsual combination of character traits that gives Fidrych his uniquely wide appeal.
For middle-American tastes there is the enthusiastic, humble Fidrych on his knees doctoring the mound or hugging a teammate in victory.
For the young, the long-haired, the antiestablishment, there is the Fidrych of a now-famous Padling Stone profile, who lives in a free-wheeling style not too far removed in its tastes and values from those of Fidrych's favorite singing group - the Grateful dead.
For the grease monkey there is Fidrych the fanatical repairer of old cars. For the literati and the deadline histonians there is Fidrych the marvelous mangler of the language saying, "I just play the game. I don't pay much attention to it," or who calls his first minor league game "my first time out in life."
Perhaps unexpectedly it is in baseball's dugouts that Fidrych is most respected, best liked and best understood.
"People don't know 5 per cent of what goes on inside players in this game, because we don't let it out," said Baltimore's Tony Muser tonight. "In 162 games you go through just about every emotional high and low known to man. Sometimes you feel like you're going to explode - that's if you're one of the ones who really cares.
"In Fidrych we see someone who lets those feelings out in public. Every last one of us hs feelings just as strong as the ones people see in him, but we protect ourselves. No team or business or country would function if everybody said or did whatever came into their mind.
"But Fidrych has done it, and, because he had won, he has survived himself. We have 50,000 people here tonight because they think Fidrych is some kind of freak or novelty.
"But the other players know that he's just like the rest of us, and a hell of a pitcher,too. On the inside, he's one of us."