DETROIT - They came by the thousands to relive childhood memories, to pay tribute to a gentleman, and to say good-bye to a legend.
Mourners from far and wide lined up outside Comerica Park and filed in through the stadium's front gate yesterday to get one last glimpse of former Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell.
Mr. Harwell, who passed away from bile duct cancer at the age of 92 on Tuesday, was lying in repose behind metal barricades just inside the stadium's entrance starting at 7 a.m.
A beautiful floral arrangement surrounded his open casket, which sat next to a life-sized statue of him with the inscription, "The Tigers' broadcasting legend and masterful storyteller for 42 seasons."
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Some visitors waited in line for an hour or more, passing the time sharing their favorite stories about Mr. Harwell.
Greeting them after they paid their respects was Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski.
"Ernie was the greatest broadcaster ever," said Wayne Metalski, a 68-year-old Hamtramck, Mich., resident sporting a Toledo Mud Hens cap. "I wrote to him quite a few times over the years, and he always sent back a little note. Just four months ago I sent him a letter, and he replied back."
"He was always a gentleman, and his voice was so soothing," added Sandy Braund, who accompanied Mr. Metalski. "I used to sell hot dogs at the old Tiger Stadium, and he'd walk by before the games and say hello. He was always smiling and happy."
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Ms. Braund said the void left behind after Mr. Harwell's death stretches well beyond baseball.
"He wasn't just our announcer. He was everything to this city," she said. "He was our ambassador."
Eight white boards, each approximately eight feet tall, were set up just outside the stadium with black permanent markers for fans to leave messages.
Nearly every square inch of the boards was covered with well wishes yesterday afternoon.
"A true gentleman in every sense of the word. You will be an inspiration for generations to come. God bless you and your family, and thanks for the countless memories!" read one message signed by "Toledo, OH".
Several people wearing Detroit Red Wings apparel stopped by before last night's Game 4 matchup with the San Jose Sharks at nearby Joe Louis Arena.
Others came wearing hats from rival Major League Baseball teams. Tom Lewis had on his Chicago Cubs cap, which he purchased during a recent trip to the Windy City.
"I remember turning the TV volume down and listening to him on the radio instead," said Mr. Lewis, 49, of Detroit. "I know tons of other people did the same, and that really says a lot about him. He's the voice of Tiger baseball and always will be."
Now living in Atlanta, Bob Martilotta just happened to be back in his native Detroit this week and was able to visit Comerica Park yesterday.
"Ernie was a big part of my life," said Mr. Martilotta, 49. "I grew up in the '60s, and he was Detroit baseball. I was one of many kids who had the radio under my pillow at night just so I could listen to him. He personalized what this franchise is all about. He left a legacy few can match."
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They came by the thousands to relive childhood memories, to pay tribute to a gentleman, and to say good-bye to a legend. Mourners from far and wide lined up outside Comerica Park and filed in through the stadium's front gate Thursday to get one last glimpse of former Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell.