July 16, 2013 at 1:17 am

Terry Foster

Ernie Harwell tribute fitting for Wayne State

Lulu Harwell, Ernie Harwell's widow, views a rendering of Ernie Harwell Field on Wayne State's diamond. (Jose Juarez /Special to Detroit News)

Detroit Rob Fournier loves old baseball stadiums.

Just look at the walls of his office at Wayne State. Two are devoted to the classics Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds and Shibe Park.

Fournier does more than reminisce. The athletic director works to include the past into the present, evident by Wayne States soon to be remodeled baseball field.

The field will become Ernie Harwell Field ... if the money is generated to finish the project.

Officials have raised $234,000 of the $550,000 needed to complete Phase I of the project, and Fournier is targeting larger companies and executives to help.

It creates uniqueness for our baseball program, Fournier said of the stadium, which is patterned after New Yorks Ebbets Field, where Harwell broadcasted games for the Brooklyn Dodgers. What you have is that nostalgia or that connection to a different era.

Radio legend adds credibility

Of course, Fournier faces the harsh realities of life.

Fundraising started with a bang, but has slowed. It needs a kick-start, and what better way than to remind people this project, while a boon for Wayne State, is a tribute to Harwell.

It would be embarrassing if the community were unable to raise $500,000 to honor the radio legend.

Think about it, Fournier said. (Harwell) was at your family outings. And he was the background to the family barbecue. When he talked about the foul ball going into the stands and talked about the fan from Escanaba, Allen Park or Hamtramck catching the ball, you would say, Darn, how did he know that person?

But you knew he knew everybody, even if he did not know the person. He had that kind of credibility.

When Fournier took over as athletic director, the baseball program was in shambles. There was no stadium. It was an open field where a wooden fence lined Brooklyn Avenue.

Things are different now.

Players are realizing their dream of playing pro ball catcher Brad Guenther recently signed with the As organization.

The stadium was the site of a Cal Ripken Foundation clinic, where Tigers teammates Phil Coke, Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks participated.

Last weekend, Tigers teammates Miguel Cabrera and Jackson appeared at a clinic at Wayne State.

And this winter, former Tigers Lance Parrish and Alan Trammell are scheduled to host a clinic at the schools indoor facility.

Important for inner city

Harwells longtime attorney, Gary Spicer, said the legend knew it was important for this field to take shape to help spur interest in baseball in the inner city.

Ernie had a birds-eye view of the migration of African-Americans and other minorities into baseball, Spicer said. He cared about the growth of baseball in the inner city.

This is more than a tribute to Harwell. Fournier hopes this becomes Detroits field of dreams.

As a baseball program and athletic program to be associated with Mr. and Mrs. (Lulu) Harwell is not a bad thing, Fournier said. We still fight a little bit of perception of who we are. Where do we fit in the city?

terry.foster@detroitnews.com
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