This is an excerpt from “Al Kaline’s Last Bat Boy” by Dennis Clotworthy, available now in bookstores and online at his website. Dennis shares this story of a night out at a rock concert with Mark Fidrych and Tom Veryzer of the Detroit Tigers in 1976. Veryzer died this past Tuesday at the age of 61. Mark “The Bird” Fidrych passed away in 2009.
On Saturday, May 8, just a few weeks prior to The Bird becoming the most famous player in all baseball (at least all baseball in 1976), I had the good fortune of hanging out with him. Paul McCartney and his newly formed band were in the middle of their “Wings Over America Tour,” and Tiger shortstop Tom Veryzer and I planned to go hear them the night after an afternoon game between the Tigers and the White Sox. We decided to meet at the Lindell AC for a burger and beer before going to Olympia Stadium to hear the famous Beatle in concert. Detroit was one of only six states where the McCartney band was going to appear for more than one night. The show we were headed for was completely sold out, just as it had been the previous night. We may not have had tickets, but I had a way to get us in. From the time I was sixteen years old, Vic Moise, my longtime friend from high school, and I had been going to Detroit Red Wings games at the Old Red Barn – Olympia Stadium. We knew an usher at one of the entrances who would let us in for “almost” free. Here is how it worked: we had to have old ticket stubs from a previous game in our hands, and we would hand them to him as we went through the doorway. He then pretended to tear the stubs in half and handed the supposedly torn tickets back to us. Usher supervisors were routinely in the area, but this was a ploy that they could not spot from a distance. Of course, for all we knew the supervisors may have been in on the deal. And it was a deal, which was to be completed between the first and second period of a hockey game. Vic and I would walk down to the concourse near the entrance where we came in and look for our usher friend. Once we saw him we would walk up to him and shake his hand in greeting, each of us with folded dollar bills in our palms. The dollars were transferred, and he pocketed them (with a fairly practiced gesture). We soon realized we were hardly the only ones involved in this little scheme. Twenty, thirty – sometimes forty or more people would be there doing the same thing. And, ours wasn’t the only helpful usher. Apparently this was going on pretty much at all the entrances of Olympia Stadium. Remember, these were the days of the “Dead Wings” of the 1970s, and the organization was lucky to have 5000 to 8000 people in stands that had a capacity of over 14,000.
So, this also would be how Veryzer and I were getting into the concert. We knew that there would be no actual seats available for us. As I said, the concert was completely sold out. But, we figured we would find a spot on the aisleway stairs and hope for the best.
As we sat in the Lindell with our burgers and beers, who walked in, but Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. He saw us and came over to our table. He was alone, but that did not surprise either Veryzer or me. It wasn’t unusual for the Bird to stop at the AC and grab a burger by himself. He took a seat and asked us what we had planned for the night. Tom said that we were going to the Paul McCartney and Wings concert at the Olympia. Fidrych got all excited and asked, “How did you guys get tickets?!!” Veryzer explained about the usher and the fake tickets, and before he could finish his thought Fidrych looked at me and asked, “Hey, any chance you could get me in too?”
I told him it probably was not going to be a problem, so off the three of us went – at least we left as soon as we’d finished our food. I drove my car with Veryzer sitting in the front seat and The Bird in the back. As we got a few blocks from Olympia, traffic began to bog down as people began looking for a place to park. Well this made it the perfect opportunity for Fidrych to “scope out” the young ladies walking down Grand River Avenue toward Olympia. Had this been a month or two later, my car would have been mobbed as the ladies would have been all over the Bird because of his rookie season success. Instead he called out to groups of girls walking by, asking them to join us – all the while making flirtatious comments about their looks. Many of them laughed and told him he was cute with those golden curly locks of hair, but none took him up on his invitation. We proceeded to park a couple blocks away. As we headed for the entrance where I knew our friendly ticket taker would be, I realized that I only had two ticket stubs – one for Veryzer one for me. I told Fidrych to cup his hand so that it appeared that he was holding a ticket and still to go through the motions of presenting the imaginary ticket to our ticket taker at the doorway. Then I told Veryzer and Fidrych to wait while I walked up to the door by myself. Quietly and quickly I explained the situation to my usher pal. We were short a ticket and there were three of us, not two. He agreed with my suggestions, so I went back to the guys and said we were going to proceed with the plan as it was laid out.
I went in first, followed by Veryzer and then Fidrych. It went off without a hitch, and once we got past the doorway by about twenty feet, Fidrych let out a loud yell that amounted to a Marine “Hoorah!” The three of us laughed and went to look for a place to watch the show.
We found an aisle in the lower arena that was pretty much on the side of the stage. We positioned ourselves near the last few steps from the back of the lower bowl, if you want to think in terms of hockey seating. The concert started almost right away, and we were just getting into it when the section usher came down to the step we were sitting on and explained that we could not block the aisleway. I knew that it was time to play the “these guys are Detroit Tigers” card. I pointed out to the usher that these two guys were Tiger players Tom Veryzer and Mark Fidrych. He raised his eyebrows and then looked at me and said, “And who are you?” I explained that I worked in the Tiger Stadium ticket office and was one year removed from being the Tiger Bat Boy. He stood quiet for a few seconds, and then said, “Okay. You can sit there, but stay to the far side of the steps in case somebody has to go up and down the stairs. I introduced Veryzer and Fidrych to the usher, and we sat back down on our step seats and enjoyed the band.
A little more than halfway through the evening, Fidrych said he was going to go to the concession stands to get a beer. We decided to stay put and waited until he returned. Twenty minutes or so went by, and no Bird. Finally, I turned my head around to see if I could spot him making his way back to us, and sure enough, I could see him. However he wasn’t on his way back. He was standing in long line to the girls’ bathroom directly behind the section we were sitting in, and he wasn’t alone. He had found two very attractive blonds who were there all by themselves. Apparently he had started a conversation with them on his way back to our seats on the steps. The ladies were on their way to the bathroom, and he decided to stand in line with them and continue the conversation. It did not end there, either. I watched as the line drew closer to the bathroom entrance, and I could see he was not going to wait outside for them. I tapped Veryzer on the shoulder (he was sitting in front of me) and pointed out what was going on. Tom giggled.
“Watch,” he said. “He will go right into the bathroom with them.” And he did!
Remember, this was 1976, long before girls started going into men’s bathrooms at concerts and sporting events – something they started doing sometime in the ’80s or ’90s, or maybe even later. This kind of thing was taboo back then, and I thought for sure Fidrych would end up with cops going in and carrying him out of there. But, alas, none were around. He disappeared into the bathroom with the girls and reappeared about ten or fifteen minutes later and headed toward us. He sat down behind me as we acknowledged his return. He grinned to us and said, “Got them.”
“Got them, what?” we replied.
“Got both their phone numbers, and I told them I’d be calling one of them tomorrow, but I didn’t tell them which one.”
Veryzer said, “Did you ever think of introducing one of them to us?”
“Nah,” he said. “I’m not sure which one I like better, but when I do I’ll see if the other one would like to meet one of you.” We all chuckled and went back to watching the remainder of the concert.
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To order “Al Kaline’s Last Bat Boy” visit //alkalineslastbatboy.com
Next week we’ll have a review of the book from Bill Dow here on the Detroit Athletic Co.’s blog.