Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Remembering Ernie Harwell: John Kreger

Note: This is the first in a series of remembrances of the iconic voice of the Detroit Tigers, Ernie Harwell, by broadcasters for and journalists who cover MSU. John Kreger is the voice of MSU Volleyball and the 2008/09 AVCA broadcaster of the year.

Ernie Harwell is the reason I became a broadcaster. Simply put, he is the epitome of what everyone in our profession should aspire to be, and what one or two people per generation actually are.

As a young boy, I would sit with my grandfather Walter and listen to Ernie on a mono Philco radio and be transported through the gifts he possessed to wherever Detroit's boys of summer were playing. A spring training broadcast from Lakeland Florida in March offered the promise of spring when winter wasn't ready to release Detroit quite yet.

Ernie's genteel Georgia manner and friendly delivery made his listeners believe that his broadcast was meant exclusively for them. His signature calls shaped a generation, and forever left an indelible mark on not only the lives of most everyone who heard him call a game, but on the fabric of baseball itself.
I had two interactions with Ernie that speak to the kind of person he was for every day of his 92 plus years on this planet. When I was 14, and a first year reporter at WSDP Radio in Plymouth, I attended a card signing of Ernie's at a hobby shop. I took my tape recorder in hopes of capturing a few words from my Idol. I sat for two hours, trying to work up the courage to approach my larger-than-life idol. As the signing concluded, he looked at me and said "Son, you've been waiting a long while, what is it you'd like to ask me? What followed was a 20 minute interview covering topics from his start in the business at southern megastation WBZ in Atlanta, to the booth at Tiger Stadium, and his advice to a young man in the business. Afterword, he took a photo with me, wished me God's blessing, and left.
Three years later, as a senior in High School, I was featured in the Detroit News. I told reporter Jeff Barr that Ernie was my idol, and the reason I'd become a broadcaster. Ernie read the article, and called me from Lakeland to offer congratulations. Ernie was that kind of a person. His status as one of the game's greatest broadcasters was overshadowed by his status as one of this earth's finest people.
I am deeply saddened at the passing of Ernie Harwell. I have lost an idol, the game of baseball has lost a champion and ambassador, the cities of New York, Atlanta, Baltimore, Los Angeles and Detroit have lost portions of their living history, and his wife and family have lost their father and husband. I am redeemed, however, by the knowledge that the suffering the Lord asked of this great man in his final days has ended, that the Christian manner in which Ernie lived his life will now be rewarded, and that he has well and truly earned his reunion with Jesus Christ and the rest of a faithful servant in God's kingdom.
I pray that I learn from the lessons he taught all of us, and that I may aspire to be the man he was. I will keep him in my heart and miss him always.

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