The season opener of Major League Baseball has reminded me of an enjoyable ride across our state while listening to one of the most recognizable voices in North America. Ernie Harwell was announcing a Detroit Tiger baseball game and his usual mastery of the microphone, added to the fact that I was once Ernie’s pastor, made my long trip a pleasant sentimental journey.
What made Ernie Harwell so effective as a baseball announcer and so loved by the public in general?
A Detroit newspaper once quoted Ernie as follows: “The most important thing to me is how I walk with God, whether I please Him or not. My family is second and my job third. I try to keep things in perspective.”
Driving and listening to Ernie at his best, reminded me of a time he and I had visited a woman who had been hospitalized for several weeks following serious surgery. Knowing she was an ardent Tiger fan, I thought a visit from Ernie might encourage her, brightening one of those routine, sometimes boring, days that can be part of a long hospital stay.
When I called Ernie to ask if he’d be willing to make the visit with me, his reply was characteristic Harwell. “Sure, I’ll be glad to go,” he said.
During our drive to the hospital, I told Ernie about the woman we were going to see: her faith, her illness, the long recovery period expected and her husband’s response when he heard of our planned visit.
“You’ll make her day!” he’d said.
“She must be easily satisfied,” Ernie replied.
Upon arriving at our destination, we headed down a corridor and approached a room that was decorated with Tiger signs. Here was a true blue fan who had chosen the Tigers as her team while growing up in New York just to have a team other than the one boosted by her brothers. That year, she had picked the team that finished last and had remained loyal through all the good and lean years that followed.
Ernie and I stepped into that hospital room without fanfare, but I knew immediately that this patient’s husband had been right in his prediction about the effect Ernie’s appearance would have on his suffering wife.
The distinguished voice this faithful fan had heard addressing thousands so many times before was now directed to her personally, but baseball wasn’t its primary theme. Here was Ernie Harwell, the man of faith, now a sermon in shoes, ministering to someone who was going through a difficult time; encouraging her and representing his Lord.
Some seldom reach out to hurting people. They just stand there, as Ernie often said after a great pitch flew by an unmoved batter, “like a house by the side of the road.” So they never get to first base in bringing others to their Lord.
Others care enough to go and show what faith and compassion are like in action.
May their numbers increase!
When they reach home, they’ll find their names recorded in heaven’s hall of fame.