09/15/2002 7:45 pm ET
Players recognize Harwell's legacy
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
DETROIT -- Robert Fick might have come closer to choking up on Ernie Harwell Day than Ernie himself.
"He held himself together pretty well," Fick said with a smile.
Fick was the player selected to sit among the special guests during Sunday's pregame ceremonies honoring the longtime Tiger broadcaster. He was seated next to Gary Spicer, Harwell's longtime business manager, who pointed out everyone's identity as one dignitary after another stood up and spoke. When Fick handed Harwell an envelope for the players' present, a trip to Hawaii, it was enough to get Fick emotional.
"It got me choked up a little bit," Fick said afterward. "He's just such a genuinely nice guy, a constant gentleman. It doesn't matter if it's your first day in the big leagues or your last. He treats everybody the same.
"He deserves a 10-year trip to Hawaii. What he's done for this organization is priceless."
The Tiger players aren't usually easy to gather in one place for big ceremonies. They tend to get restless, move about the dugout or scatter off towards the field. On Sunday, they were at full attention for Harwell. It was one of a few positive Luis Pujols could take from a 9-3 loss.
"Everybody there showed a lot of respect for Ernie and I'm grateful for that," Pujols said. "I think it was a great gesture, and I hope Ernie noticed that the guys really respected him."
"When you think of the Detroit Tigers, you think of Ernie Harwell."
-- Tigers pitcher Jason Beverlin
A few Tigers -- such as coaches Bruce Fields and Steve McCatty and pitchers Andy Van Hekken and Jason Beverlin -- grew up in Michigan listening to Harwell. For Beverlin, the ceremonies added to the stress of making his first Major League start on the same day as the team honored Harwell.
Beverlin went to school in nearby Royal Oak, Mich., and remembers following the team's roll to the 1984 World Championship. He recalled going to school and having teachers bring radios to class so they could listen to the game.
"When you think of the Detroit Tigers, you think of Ernie Harwell," Beverlin said. "Like the speakers said, there's certain teams that have certain voices attached to them. The Cubs have Haray Caray. The Tigers have Ernie Harwell."
Then there are the players who just got to Detroit, guys who had heard about Ernie Harwell before this season, but never spent much time around him.
"If I have a few positives I'm going to take out of this year, meeting Ernie is definitely going to be at the top," infielder Damian Jackson said. "It was pretty emotional. If he didn't tug at your heart when he was out there talking about the people who meant to him, his lifetime commitment to his wife, his devotion to God, it was pretty touching. I got a little choked up."
Steve Sparks was waiting to see Ernie shed a tear as well, thinking back to Tiger Stadium's final game three years ago and how Harwell gave a touching farewell. The unveiling of his statue got to him.
"I think the statue almost buckled him today," said Sparks, who knew Harwell well before he became a Tiger two years ago. "I thought it was a touching tribute as a representative of this community and this ballclub."
Though the organization picked out the vacation, the players found it an appropriate payback for 42 years of Tiger road trips that Ernie has taken with them and without his family.
"This is a great game," Jackson said, "but to look back at things we miss while playing this game, we never got to go to beach parties and picnics, things like that. We get to take trips in the offseason, but it's not the same as the summertime. It's awesome he gets a chance to do it."
Jason Beck covers the Tigers for MLB.com and can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.