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“I could not feel my feet hitting the ground”

May 6, 2022

Through 18 games, the Worcester Birds are 12 and 6 and are leading their division in the hallowed “Auto League 460121” of the Strat-O-Matic online game. Mark Fidrych has pitched spectacularly well in one start and has scuffled otherwise, but with help from a potent lineup and an unexpectedly effective bullpen, he’s notched 3 wins, keeping him on pace at this very early stage to surpass 20 wins. He’ll be the main point of interest for me over the next few weeks as this simulated reconfiguring of the past unfolds, but you can’t say he’s been the story of the team’s hot start thus far.

If I were following this team the way I followed baseball in 1977, the story of the season so far would ring out loud and clear, as my main point of contact with the action back then was studying the batting averages and league leaders in the newspaper. Studying is not even the right word. Using, maybe? But to what purpose? I’m not really sure, but if a player for my favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, was near the top of the list in any of the major statistical categories of the day, I would fixate on that name. I might go find the player’s card in my collection. I would imagine being that player. And the ritual, or whatever it was, didn’t actually restrict itself to merely a search for Red Sox players. I felt compelled to memorize everyone, or to try to, from the very bottom to the top. Especially the top. I think that’s why I reacted to Lyman Bostock’s death when I was a kid by tacking to my wall a clipping of the Sunday averages with his name near the top. He had become a part of my mind, and not just any part but some aspirational euphoric pinnacle, part of a personal Sistine sky I was painting on the roof of my brain to replace the dark and inexplicable with fixed, glowing stars.

I’ll tell you more later about the brightest current star in this new fabrication of reality. For now I just wanted to capture a glimpse of Eric Soderholm riding high. His 1976 and 1977 seasons were something of a reverse echo of those same two years for Mark Fidrych. As Fidrych struggled with injuries in 1977 after his brilliant 1976 season, Soderholm posted a career-best season in 1977 after sitting out the entire 1976 season with injuries. Soderholm experienced a more extreme break from baseball in 1976 than Fidrych did in 1977, and similarly Soderholm didn’t achieve the heights in 1977 that Fidrych did in 1976 (because nobody ever got that high).

Still, Soderholm got pretty close. Closer than most of us ever get. As I fixate on his name at the top of the leaders lists, I imagine that feeling. In a great interview with oral historian Mark Liptak, Eric Soderholm reports about what it was like at the pinnacle in 1977:

Mark Liptak: Perhaps your greatest personal moment that year was on July 30, a nationally televised game on NBC. The Sox had come from behind to beat the Royals on Friday night. In this game the Sox trailed 3-2 in the 7th when you came up against Doug Bird. Bird was a tough pitcher because he threw almost sidearm, yet you drilled a three run shot in the lower left center field deck to give the Sox a 5-3 lead. It ended with the Sox winning 6-4. Talk me through the at-bat, what you were feeling, especially when you hit the pitch.

Eric Soderholm: That was the most powerful, impacting moment I had in my career. As you were asking the question, I was thinking about it and I still get goose bumps. When I hit the ball I thought it had a chance. When it went in the seats the energy that came from the fans shook the park. It was a magical moment, the park was electric. As I was running the bases I could not feel my feet hitting the ground. I mean that. The place was up for grabs. I remember that I took a big jump to touch home plate and then I was mobbed by the guys. Incredible.

from Eric Soderholm interview with Mark Liptak

***

Additional Worcester Birds notes, games 13 through 18:

  • G13: W 8-4
    • Munson 5 for 5 with 2 home runs and 4 RBI. Dixon earns win with 1 run in 5 innings. Cruz with 2 hits, including a homer.
  • G14: L 3-2
    • Lee now two for two in wasted, strong starts (5 innings, 1 run), and Soderholm blasts his 6th home run.
  • G15: W 13-7
    • Cruz 3 for 5 with 3 runs scored; Bowa 3 for 5 with 2 RBI
  • G16: W 6-4 (Fidrych 3-1)
    • Bowa with a game-tying 2-run homer; Soderholm with 2 hits and a homer; Tekulve with 2 scoreless innings for the save
  • G17: W 11-7
    • Soderholm with 3 hits and a homer; Hernandez with 3 hits and 2 RBI; Bostock with 3 hits
  • G18: L 5-4   
    • Morgan with 3 hits and a homer; Campbell with 3 scoreless innings

One comment

  1. Sunday newspaper stats…those were the days. Fantastic Soderholm interview!



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