Like so many others, I started to write a post tonight about Ernie Harwell. Then I realized I’d already written everything I possibly could about him in a post on January 25, 2008 — Ernie’s 90th birthday. I wrote the following post in much better spirits than the ones in which I find myself tonight.
Opening Day 1979 was, like so many in Detroit, bitter cold. (How cold was it? Neither team held batting practice.) It was the first Opener I’d ever attended but I remember it like it was the day before yesterday.
Not because the game was on a Saturday. Not because it was a blowout, 8-2 loss to the Rangers behind Ferguson Jenkins‘ complete game. (Johnny Grubb went 2 for 5 with a first-inning homer off starter and losing pitcher Dave Rozema.)
And not because Dan Gonzalez pinch hit for Alan Trammell (!!) in the bottom of the ninth, one of only 25 big-league at bats Gonzalez would ever get. (He flied out to right to end the game.) No, what I’ll always remember about that day was that I met today’s birthday boy, Ernie Harwell.
My brother, his friend Freddie and I were walking around the field in the lower deck when my brother spotted Ernie chatting it up with fans behind the Tigers dugout. We took our place in the makeshift line and Ernie signed my program.
(I have no idea where that signature ended up, but I take solace in the fact I have the one shown here from a signed copy of Ernie’s 1985 book Tuned to Baseball.)
I had the chance to ask a question and here’s what my nine-year-old bean came up with: Is Paul up in the booth?
Ernie replied that Paul Carey was, in fact, up in the booth preparing for the game and that he hoped I had fun at the ballpark that day. Talk about a thrill — even more thrilling than getting Jim Northrup‘s autograph at my annual baseball banquet later that year. And every year on Opening Day I think of it (Ernie’s signature, not Northrup’s).
Even if you didn’t get a chance to meet him in person, given the number of games he called for us on the radio, doesn’t it feel like you did?