While I have been lucky enough to cover the Tiger’s at Comerica Park on several occasions I only had the pleasure of attending games at “The Corner” twice. I was a pre-teen the first time I got to see a game from the right field bleachers at Tiger Stadium and the second was many years later during the count down to the grand old ballpark’s final game.
While I remember lots of little things about my childhood visit the last trip to the ballpark on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull was by far the best. The crowd, the sights, the sounds, the nostalgic atmosphere knowing it was so close to the end of a century of baseball tradition. Watching Baltimore’s Cal Ripken Jr.’s, playing in his last game in Detroit, walking along the seats for almost an hour signing autographs for young fans. I got my first look at a professional digital camera and I got to snap a picture of someone who, until the other day, I didn’t even realize was one of my childhood hero’s.
If you grew up in northern Michigan where I now reside you probably knew who Ernie Harwell was but not like you did if you were a young Little Leaguer growing up in Ann Arbor in the 1970’s. I was one of the youngsters Mr. Harwell spoke of during his final appearance at a Tigers game last year. One of the thousands of boys that spent their after bedtime hours, head under pillow, A.M. radio at my ear listening to him describe the on field heroics of the mighty Al Kaline, Micky Lolich, “Stormin” Norman Cash, Willie Horton and countless other Tiger players. Even when there was no hope of a playoff run Ernie made them all sound like the greatest players to ever take the field.
For generations of fans his passing last week has brought forth a flood of memories and emotions. In remembering him he has taken many of us back to the days before the internet, pampered players and mega million dollar contracts, back to the summer nights when he shared with us our passion for the game and the innocence of our youth. Taken us back to bleachers and box seats at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, to the thrill of a World Championship ride and the sadness of Tiger Stadium’s final day. Back to the excitement we felt as we sat like mesmerized grandchildren listening to him reminisce about the baseball heroes of his youth as he described the play of those who would become the great players that make up our memories of the game. In his passing we feel not only for his loved ones who were so kind to share him with us but also for ourselves as it is yet another reminder that as time marches on our youth was indeed fleeting.
History will hopefully remember Ernie as one of the men who helped create “The Great American Pastime”. For more than half a century he brought life to the games great moments, great players and the sport itself for millions of fans. He is an enduring part of our youth and indeed a piece of the very fabric that makes up our national heritage.
Thank you for a lifetime of baseball memories Mr. Harwell, and for being a part of our lives. Whenever I think of baseball I will, in a way, be thinking of you. See you on the other side Ernie. Save me a seat in the bleachers.