The following is an excerpt from an autobiographical novel, Wheels on the Bus: Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Life in 1974, Copyright Ken Bilderback 2010.
Lakeland was the first city I really wanted to see, because it was the Spring Training home of the Detroit Tigers. Actually it was much more than that, thanks to the calm, soothing voice of Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell. Listening to Harwell on my little plastic transistor radio in Detroit, his voice always created vivid images in my young mind.
Wherever he was broadcasting from sounded like Heaven on Earth. He would talk about the clouds and the breeze and the happy families and dads catching foul balls in the stands for their adoring sons. Harwell was the calm voice of reason during the riots and assassinations of the late 1960s. In the ’60s and ’70s, the Tigers had a couple of young black players named Gates Brown and Ron LeFlore who had been discovered in reform schools or prisons. Today, Brown and LeFlore would be criticized endlessly on talk radio, but to Harwell they were just good human beings, like everyone else who crossed his path. My father never saw anything but the bad in people. Harwell was his happy antithesis, and I hung on his every word.
Ernie Harwell’s voice was most magical in the early Spring. While back in Detroit we still were sloshing through the black crusty snow of late winter, Harwell was in Lakeland for Spring training. Late winter for me meant huddling in the basement away from school bullies and my father. Harwell’s voice, beamed to my little transistor radio from Lakeland, always was the first harbinger of better days ahead. Lakeland sounded magical. Sometimes still shoveling snow, I would listen as the warm breezes through the palm trees cooled the families sitting in the stands enjoying Tiger squads that were destined to have great seasons in warm, happy summers at Tiger Stadium. Lakeland sounded more magical than anyplace Harwell broadcast from, except perhaps the golden cities of California. When he was broadcasting from the Golden State I couldn’t listen to the whole game because of the time difference, but I was amazed to think that as I huddled under the covers of my bed with Bandit, the sun was shining brightly on California.