Originally published in the Grand Rapids Press, May 8, 2010
When I was nine years-old we moved to Michigan from South Carolina. In South Carolina, folks followed football and stock car racing. Baseball was played, but it wasn’t followed. The Atlanta Braves were the nearest major league team, but I don’t recall ever hearing about them. We arrived in Michigan in April. Our next door neighbors were the Kidles, a husband and wife in their late 80s. Their house was one of the only styles in our subdivision that had a front porch designed for occupying. (Unlike our two-story colonial that had a small cement block designed only for barely avoiding impact when the screen door was opened.)
When the warm summer evenings arrived, the Kidles would set up a transistor radio on the porch and listen to the Tiger game. Eventually I started to drift over there, and I’d listen, too. Sometimes we’d talk, and sometimes they would tell stories, but mostly we’d sit quietly and enjoy the game. It’s funny how there was such a rhythm to it. You could be mid-sentence and instinctively know Ernie Harwell or Paul Carey was going to say something important — you’d pause, listen to the action, maybe whoop up a Willie Horton homer or Micky Lolich strikeout — then continue without missing a beat. The Tiger broadcast was an integral part of a summer evening.
But you know what? To celebrate Ernie Harwell is not to look to the past — it’s to look to the future. Of the many incredible things I read or heard about Ernie Harwell over the past couple weeks, none was greater than the short article Michael Rosenberg, from the Detroit Free Press, wrote in Sport Illustrated this week. It pointed out that, for the most part, Ernie disliked nostalgia. For him it was all about learning and embracing the new. This is beyond impressive for a person born in the Deep South in the early 1900s. And it explains a lot about why he was so universally loved by generations of Tiger fans. I’m already celebrating Ernie by nearly jumping out of my skin looking forward for this summer!