Friday, May 07, 2010

The Faith of Ernie Harwell

As you are probably aware, long-time Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell passed away this week at the age of ninety-two. Harwell, who had been calling major league baseball games for over half a century, spent the bulk of his Hall of Fame career announcing games for my beloved Detroit Tigers.

For those of us that grew up listening to Mr. Harwell's voice on the radio, a part of us has died along with his passing. He connected Tigers fans across generations and leaves us wonderful memories of the innocence of childhood and the peaceful of his voice in the background on a quiet summer evening. For sports fan in Michigan there are names like Schembechler and Howe and Isiah and Sanders and Yzerman and Trammell and many, many others that hold a special place in our hearts. But perhaps more than any other, Ernie Harwell stands above the rest.

Although he was a Southerner by birth, Mr. Harwell grew to love the state of Michigan and its residents. During his last official broadcast at the end of the 2002 season, he had this to say:
"It's time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I'd much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure. I'm not leaving, folks. I'll still be with you, living my life in Michigan -- my home state -- surrounded by family and friends," he said.

"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."
And in a ceremony in his honor just mere months before his passing, Mr. Harwell said this:
"In my almost 92 years on this Earth, the good Lord has blessed me with a great journey," Harwell told fans, "and the blessed part of that journey is that it's going to end here in the great state of Michigan. I deeply appreciate the people of Michigan. I love their grit. I love the way they face life. I love the family values they have. And you Tiger fans are the greatest fans of all."
I never had the privilege of meeting him but for those that did, it seems that he always left a positive impression. And I don't think it was by chance. In an interview with Detroit Free Press columnist and author Mitch Albom that took place shortly before his death, Mr. Harwell shared about a life changing event in 1961 where he became a Christian at a Billy Graham event. In his non-confrontational and endearing manner, Harwell shares how his encounter with Jesus radically changed his life and enabled him to face his final days with courage and dignity. You can read Albom's column on Harwell here and watch the video where he tells his story of faith here.

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