“And rather than goodbye, please allow me to say thank you. Thank you for letting me be part of your family. Thank you for taking me with you to that cottage up north, to the beach, the picnic, your work place and your backyard. Thank you for sneaking your transistor under the pillow as you grew up loving the Tigers. Now, I might have been a small part of your life. But you’ve been a very large part of mine. And it’s my privilege and honor to share with you the greatest game of all.” ~Ernie Harwell (January 25, 1918 – May 4, 2010)
Another of my heros has died. Ernie Harwell, the voice of Detroit Tiger baseball. And he was speaking about me, sneaking my radio underneath my pillow so I could listen to the games.
For 42 years he called the games on both radio and television for Detroit. He is the only “voice” of baseball that I’ve ever known. He was humble and down-to-earth. He was loved because of his great appreciation for the game and for the fans.
My father loved baseball. He used to tease that he once tried out for the Tigers but Hank Aguirre took his spot. Because of his love for the game and, through a child’s eyes, he played so well, we believed him. I remember going to the games with my father, sitting behind the third base line, eating hot dogs and peanuts. He taught me how to score. He taught me how to play. He taught me to love our favorite American pastime.
Sports announcer, Ernie Harwell, only deepened my love for the game. He was known for his infectious enthusiasm and clever phrases. I’ll never forget watching a game with my dad and after a fan caught a foul ball hearing Ernie say, “A fan from East Lansing will be taking home that ball today!” That was near where we lived! How did he know that fan? My dad laughed. That was Ernie’s charm. He had a way of making the game accessible, exciting and fun.
Year later, when I moved to Savannah, Georgia, I arrived at rehearsal early. A piece we were working on had to be memorized by that evening. I needed the peace and quiet. Always the procrastinator, I turned on the radio. It was set to AM radio. For kicks and giggles I decided to see what I could pick up. Suddenly, I heard Ernie Harwell’s unmistakable voice. Announcing a Tigers game. I sat there, stunned, listening to a broadcast from 1000 miles away. I teared up, missing home.
I have never written a fan letter. Yet, I have formed many in my head. When I heard, 8 years ago, that he was retiring I composed one of those fan letters. I even looked up where I should send it.
But I never did.
And for that, I’m sorry Mr. Harwell. I would have said thank you for keeping me company all those late nights, sneaking a listen to a double-header when I was supposed to be asleep. Thanks for helping to nurture my love of the game. But most of all, thank you for sharing YOUR love of the game with all of us.