Harwell Field transforms from conceptual drawings to reality

By: Mark Vest | Advertiser Times | Published April 20, 2017

 Pictured is one of the walls inside the Harwell Field facility at Wayne State University. Wayne State baseball coach Ryan Kelley described the facility as “one of a kind.”

Pictured is one of the walls inside the Harwell Field facility at Wayne State University. Wayne State baseball coach Ryan Kelley described the facility as “one of a kind.”

Photo by Deb Jacques

DETROIT — After being initially announced in June of 2013, the grand opening for Harwell Field took place April 18 on the campus of Wayne State University.

The field is the home of Wayne State’s baseball team.

The building — named for famed Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell — is a replica of the main entrance at Ebbets Field. The old Brooklyn Dodgers played their home games at Ebbets, and it is where Harwell spent part of his broadcasting career in the 1940s.

Among the many features inside the building is a wall that highlights five of Harwell’s signature calls and is framed by corresponding Tigers players; monitors that play World Series highlights from the club’s championship years; Harwell’s Michigan Sports Hall of Fame plaque; a replica of the scoreboard from Ebbets Field; and display areas that are designed as a throwback to the exterior ticket windows at Ebbets.

After looking at conceptual drawings numerous times since 2013, Wayne State Director of Athletics Rob Fournier — who served as co-chairman of the project, along with Harwell’s longtime friend and attorney, S. Gary Spicer Sr. — finally got a chance to see those images come to life.

“The architect did such a great job; (he) captured all the nuances of it, all the little intricacies of it,” Fournier said. “It’s almost like you’re going back in time. You look for those iconic images of baseball. I think Ernie was that. I think Ebbets Field is that. I think it’s a great combination.”

Spicer referred to Harwell Field as a treasure for the city of Detroit.

“None of us have seen anything that’s technically this well put together,” Spicer said. “It’s so appropriate for Mr. Harwell. He was such a wonderful man. … We have a lot of potential with this facility.”

On the outer walls of the building are four limestone Harwell medallions, replicating the patch worn by Tigers coaches and players following his passing in 2010.

Features that were already in place prior to the Harwell Field project include a 37-foot-high fence in the outfield, which is a replica of the “Green Monster” at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, and the actual left field scoreboard from Tiger Stadium.

Aside from being Wayne State’s baseball coach, Ryan Kelley played for the University of Michigan. He has had the opportunity to see numerous facilities, and he shared his opinion about the uniqueness of Harwell Field.

“It’s really one of a kind,” Kelley said. “There’s great ballparks at the university level at all divisions, but having it tied in with a museum atmosphere, a look back into history with Ebbets Field and all the great Detroit baseball history, it’s remarkable. With the renaissance of the city, this is another great addition to midtown and the expansion that’s going on here. It’s really fun to be a part of it.”

One of Kelley’s players, senior second baseman Justin Sherman, said he is blessed to have the opportunity to play at the facility.

“When we saw this built, I thought it was the coolest thing,” Sherman said. “When I first got here, we just had metal bleachers. … But now, they (spectators) can enjoy this scene and sit in the stands of Harwell (Field) with this beautiful venue behind them. And then to have all the players see (the) beautiful venue behind home plate, it’s awesome.”

Alan Trammell, who spoke publicly at the ceremony, got to know Harwell when he played for the Tigers.

“This makes it a hundred percent that Ernie will never be forgotten,” Trammell said. “I got a little sneak preview yesterday. … It was better than I expected. That’s how nice it is.”

Long before he became a player for the Tigers, Michigan native Kirk Gibson was already familiar with Harwell’s work as a broadcaster.

“This is great,” Gibson said following Trammell’s comments. “To do it in honor of Ernie Harwell, it’s an honor for me to be here.”

After seeing some of the work that went into constructing the building, which was funded privately at a cost of $2.3 million, Wayne State freshman Nijah Russell finally had her chance to step inside and get an up-close look.

“It’s really beautiful,” said Russell, who is also on the women’s track and field team. “It’s like walking into a piece of history — looking at all the pictures, hearing him speak and looking at all the information. They did a really, really nice job.”

Wayne State freshman Ryan Mangulabnan, who is on the men’s cross country team, said the building is “fantastic.” 

“Wow. It’s kind of breathtaking how much information and how much history is right in front of my eyes right now,” he said.

For more information, including details about Wayne State home games, visit wsuathletics.com.