Saturday, November 28, 2009

A seat next to a legend...

Life is funny.

As a kid, I spent summer nights falling asleep to the sweet sounds of broadcast team Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey relay the play-by-play fortunes of my beloved Detroit Tigers. A small transistor radio, tucked beneath my pillow captured the signal.

Thirty-five years later, I've spent the best part of two days sharing time with Carey, high atop Ford Field, watching high school kids chase gridiron glory on the field turf below. Our wide-ranging conversations spanned the early days of his career, to his travels in retirement, to the health of his old broadcast partner.

Now 81 years old, Carey's tones and mind are still as sharp as ever. Looking over all-state basketball teams from the 1930's and 40's he recalled the names and antics of many of the state's former all-time greats. Thanks to my proding, he described his career path from Mt. Pleasant to Saginaw to Detroit. Among the memories, he recalled his selection in 1973 by old Tigers' general manager Jim Campbell as Ray Lane's replacement as Ernie's broadcast partner on WJR. Over 150 others had made audition broadcasts in hopes of landing the cherished spot in the booth.

"Campbell's tone, as he said that they had made a choice, led me to believe I wasn't the one," recalled Carey, "then he gave me the news."

For 19 years, Carey traveled with Tiger for WJR, serving as engineer and sidekick on Tiger broadcasts. Suitcases and hotels in American League towns served as home.

As we watched the Division 8 battle between Beal City and Crystal Falls Forest Park, he remembered covering Beal City's run to the state basketball semifinals in 1953 for Mt. Pleasant's WCEN. Soon after he was working in Saginaw.

He spoke of his father, a geography teacher, and reluctant politician. He mentioned his love of travel, acquired as a kid on vacations with his family.

We discussed our love of sports stadiums. As I recalled my trips to major leage ballparks with my sons, I noted our hope to visit Fenway one day. With the joy of a child in his voice, he mentioned his desire to visit Wrigley Field. That one caught me off guard, but of course his travels with the Tigers were before interleague play.

This weekend was his first trip to Ford Field, and it ended with a trip to the press conference following Detroit Catholic Central's victory over Sterling Heights Stevenson.

Heading out, he thanked me for making his visit most enjoyable, then said goodbye to my sons by name. A true gentleman from our greatest generation.

Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine a life that would lead to meetings with such amazing people.

Today, another was added. I'll treasure the time forever.

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