Three years after Ernie Harwell passed through that Great Turnstile in the Sky, Wayne State University intends to burnish the beloved broadcaster’s legacy with a $1.3 million renovation of its varsity baseball field and rename the upgraded facility after him and his wife of 68 years, Lula “Lulu” Harwell.
The capital campaign was announced in June. The first phase seeks $550,000 to build a 500-seat grandstand behind home plate. The complex will house a press box and a foyer to display some of Harwell’s memorabilia. Bleachers will be built down both baselines. Construction is slated to begin next spring.
“We’re pursuing corporations, but it’s the $5 and $10 contributions that will move fundraising along,” says WSU athletic director Rob Fournier. “That kind of grass-roots effort is really what Ernie was about. He was much more the popcorn and hot dog guy than the filet mignon guy.” A second phase of the project is a clubhouse that will include office and storage space.
There’s an important outreach component to the Harwell Field project, Fournier says. “We want inner-city kids to be able to play on the field, to learn some of the lessons of teamwork. Ernie knew that baseball can be a learning tool. The idea is to let them play ball, feed and house them overnight in the residence halls, and get them off the streets. We want kids to be exposed to something positive, to have something to aspire to.”
Since coming to WSU a decade ago, Fournier has incorporated nostalgic elements into the ongoing upgrades of the Warriors’ facilities. The groomed and enclosed playing field, once little more than a rock-strewn sandlot without fences, features a 37-foot-high left-field wall that replicates the “Green Monster” at Boston’s Fenway Park. At the wall’s base is a restored scoreboard salvaged from Tiger Stadium. The exterior facade of Harwell Field will borrow from Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field, where Harwell got his big-league start. A statue of Ernie and Lulu Harwell has been commissioned.
There is a treasured piece of Tiger Stadium that Fournier wants, but so far has been unable to get his hands on: the original center-field flagpole. Although the stadium at Michigan and Trumbull is gone, the 125-foot pole remains in place, a giant flag waving over the makeshift diamond that activist groundskeepers interchangeably call “Navin Field” or “Harwell Park.”