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Harwell Field unveiled at Wayne State

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — It all started with a simple thank-you letter.

Wayne State athletic director Rob Fournier had an idea in mind but wasn’t sure if it would come to fruition.

After Ernie Harwell spoke at Wayne State’s commencement ceremonies in 2008, the wheels started spinning in Fournier’s head about how to honor the legendary Tigers broadcaster.

Then it hit him: honor Harwell with the Warriors’ baseball program.

The result is a new baseball facility, Ernie Harwell Field, on Wayne State’s athletic campus. The new structure is a hat tip to Harwell and his wife Lulu, and is a replica of the rotunda at Ebbets Field, where Harwell began his broadcasting career with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It’s adorned with limestone arches with a polished concrete floor designed like a baseball infield.

The red brick accents four limestone medallions with “EH” initials, replicas of the ones worn by the Tigers after Harwell’s death and the illuminated 24-inch letters for the Harwell Field sign above the building are duplicates of those at Ebbets Field.

Displays also adorn the walls, with audio of some of Harwell’s iconic radio calls, his acceptance speech from the Baseball Hall of Fame and his plaque from his induction into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.

The building is 2,675 square feet and cost $2.3 million — all of which was privately funded, with no state dollars.

It’s the first phase of a multi-part project that will include expanded grandstands and a press box in coming years.

It’s that attention to detail that makes the new facility more a museum and place to see than anything else.

“That adds to the allure of why people would want to see it. If you say Harwell Field, when people get inside, you should see all that stuff,” Fournier said.

“You could listen to all the great calls in baseball and Jose Feliciano’s national anthem. It’s all there.”

Fournier wrote the letter to Harwell’s friend and longtime attorney, S. Gary Spicer, that he had an idea to discuss.

He didn’t mention the project initially, fearing that it might be too big in scope.

“You think you have an idea and whether it ever gets realized and by chance, that contribution acknowledgement coming to Athletics (helped me) to write the letter,” Fournier said.

“If that doesn’t happen, who knows if I ever connect with Gary Spicer?

“In the letter, I don’t actually mention what it is I want to do. I got an idea.”

Wayne State announced the project in 2013 and the groundbreaking was in August 2016.

Now, it’s gone from the idea phase to reality. Wayne State baseball coach Ryan Kelley sees it as motivation and a legacy for his players to live up to.

“We have a great opportunity to go to a great school and learn from great educators and play in the NCAA,” Kelley said.

“It also means responsibility and now that we have the name Harwell associated with our program, it’s a great opportunity but also a tremendous responsibility.”