Friday, September 4, 2009

Knowing Ernie Harwell

I first met Hall of Fame sportscaster Ernie Harwell in 1966 when I was a senior in high school. My family had just moved to Milwaukee from Bridgeport, Conn., where I used to listen to Ernie broadcast Detroit Tigers games on the Zenith portable radio my dad had given me in the late '50s. I could just barely hear the games at night on 50,000 watt WJR-AM 760 in Detroit, "The Great Voice of the Great Lakes." I had a pillow speaker and would listen to the games late into the night against my parents' wishes.

When we moved to the Milwaukee suburb of Glendale, I wrote Ernie, asking if I could meet him at a Tigers-Chicago White Sox game we were going to attend in the spring of 1967. I was a senior in high school. Ernie didn't know me; didn't know that I had been listening to him all those miles and games away in Bridgeport. Yet he met with my dad and me, sitting outside the press box before the game on a cold day, talking with us for a good 15 minutes before excusing himself to broadcast the game. I still have my letter to Ernie and his response. My dad snapped a couple photographs. But the memory is what lingers.

Over the years, as I became a sports writer and editor, I would see Ernie every year, no matter where I lived: sometimes in Cleveland, sometimes in Detroit, sometimes New York or Baltimore. He always had time for me. We often had lunch. I often brought my sons, Adam and David. Ernie Harwell saw them grow up.

Ernie Harwell has been the symphony music in the background of my life. There are only a couple men in my life that I characterize to others as great men: Former Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian, who taught me how to be a good reporter and journalist, and Ernie Harwell, who taught me about grace.

I hope this is a good year for Ernie, that the cancer of the bile duct he has is not unkind and does not cause him too much pain and discomfort. I hope I will see him again, one more time. I have lost too many good friends too young, most to cancer. Ernie is 91. He must have been too valuable to take too early, and he is not so old now that there isn't much in life he could still do. Like all the dearest friends I have lost --Paul Regan, Jon Barkan, Jim Cash, Johnny Johns and Connie McAuliffe, not to mention my mom and dad 13 years ago -- there is never a right time or enough time. But the time there has been with all of them has been the best time of my life. I miss them every day.

I will miss Ernie Harwell. But I will never forget him.

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