Hospice of Michigan brings Mitch Albom's play about the life of Ernie Harwell to West Michigan

Blue Care Network joins as presenting sponsor of 'Ernie'

June 20, 2012

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. — Hospice of Michigan announced this morning that it plans to bring Mitch Albom's play honoring the life of Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell to West Michigan for a special two-week run in September as a special fundraiser.

During a press conference at Fifth Third Ballpark on this first day of summer, Albom joined HOM officials to unveil details surrounding the West Michigan debut of "Ernie," the smash hit play honoring the legendary Voice of Summer. The play kicks off its 12-performance run at Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids on Wednesday, Sept. 12, with an "Opening Day" event that will feature Albom, Harwell's son Bill and well-known Detroit Tiger alumni.
Proceeds from the play will benefit HOM's Open Access Program, which provides care to those who need help, regardless of age, diagnosis or ability to pay. Each year, HOM provides end-of-life care for more than 200 West Michigan residents each day.

Blue Care Network of Michigan is the presenting sponsor for "Ernie." Meijer and CareLinc Home Medical Equipment and Supply will also serve as "Hall of Fame" sponsors. Media partners for the event include Cumulus Media, MLive and WOOD-TV8.

"Ernie Harwell has been a true treasure for the state of Michigan," said Marcie Hillary, executive director of Hospice of Michigan/West Michigan. "Throughout his life, he served as a role model for what’s truly important: family, graciousness, civility and giving back.

"Ernie did not shy away from difficult or uncomfortable issues. In fact, when he was faced with terminal cancer, he and his family worked with hospice to plan for the important end-of-life decisions. Hospice of Michigan could not be more pleased to present this amazing play by a superb writer about this unique Michigan treasure."

"Ernie" is set on Ernie Harwell’s last night at Comerica Park, when the Hall of Fame broadcaster is about to give a moving "thank you" to a grateful city. Just before he walks onto the grassy field, he encounters an unusual boy who is eager to know all about him, coaxing Harwell into giving one final broadcast – the "broadcast of his life."

The play boasts many unmistakable Harwell calls and features actual footage from historic baseball moments, supplied courtesy of Major League Baseball. Tiger fans will get a glimpse of the time that Ernie met the Great Bambino and Ty Cobb. They’ll witness how he "recreated" games in his early days, and what was behind his broadcasts of the Tigers’ 1968 and 1984 World Series.

"Ernie Harwell is an icon and continues to be an inspiration," said Blues President and Chief Executive Officer Daniel J. Loepp. "Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is proud to serve as presenting sponsor for the West Michigan debut of 'Ernie,' and to honor our good friend who helped promote healthy lifestyles for all Michiganians."

"Ernie" debuted in April 2011, nearly a year after Mr. Harwell lost a 10-month battle with cancer. It played to sold-out houses at the City Theatre in Detroit, just one block from Comerica Park. It was brought back by popular demand for a three-month run in Detroit that will end July 29.

In real life, Harwell and Albom spoke often about doing a stage play one day. Albom, the hugely successful playwright behind "Tuesdays with Morrie," was willing to collaborate with Harwell, who he counted as a friend for 25 years, but in 2009 Harwell’s health faded and the project had to be shelved. After Ernie’s death in May 2010, Albom picked up the pen again, and the result reached audiences in April of the following year.

"Ernie’s story transcends sports," Albom said. "It’s a story of 20th century Americana and a love affair with baseball and a childhood sweetheart. Ernie went through the Depression, World War II, the segregation of sports – he also called some of the grandest moments ever witnessed on a ball field. It’s an honor to bring such a rich character to the stage – especially for so many fans who loved him."

Dr. James Fahner, chair of the HOM Foundation Board and a pediatric oncologist at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, expressed his gratitude to Albom and the case of "Ernie" for being willing to bring the production to Grand Rapids to benefit HOM.

"This is a magnificent play that will resonate with audiences in West Michigan," Fahner explained. "Mitch is a true artist: There's not a wasted word or a lost sentiment in the entire production. The cast is phenomenal and the story is pure Ernie, pure Michigan. We are incredibly pleased and honored to bring this amazing play to our community."

"Ernie" features the talents of Will David Young, who portrays the legendary announcer with an uncanny – and often startling – similarity to his one-of-a-kind voice. Young has appeared in many of Michigan's professional theaters including The Purple Rose, the Performance Network, the Detroit Repertory Theatre and the Boarshead Theater.

Young is joined by Timothy "TJ" Corbett, who plays the Boy in this 90-minute retrospective of the famed broadcaster's life. A recent theater graduate, Corbett founded and ran a small theater company, Hole in the Wall, which then went on to perform at the college circuit and in Southeastern Michigan.

Mitch Albom is an internationally renowned and best-selling author, journalist, screenwriter, playwright and radio and TV broadcaster. His books have collectively sold nearly 30 million copies worldwide, are published in 42 languages and have been made into Emmy Award-winning and critically acclaimed television movies. His first play was "Tuesdays With Morrie," based on his best-selling memoir. In 2010, Albom was honored with the Red Smith Award for lifetime achievement in sportswriting.

Tickets for "Ernie" will go on sale Monday, June 25. Tickets for "Opening Day" are $250 and are available by calling 616.356.5266. Tickets for all other performances are $30 and available by calling TicketMaster at 800.745.3000 or visiting www.ticketmaster.com and www.hom.org.

In addition to shows at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Sept. 12, performances will be held at 7 p.m. on Sept. 13-15 and Sept. 19-22. Matinees at 2:30 p.m. will be held on Sept. 16, 22 and 23.

For more information about tickets, visit HOM's website. For more information about the play, visit http://mitchalbom.com/d/theater/7126/ernie-play. Learn more about Hospice of Michigan at www.hom.org.

About Hospice of Michigan

A nationally recognized leader in end-of-life care, Hospice of Michigan is the original – and largest – hospice in the state of Michigan. The non-profit organization cares for more than 1,000 patients each day in 56 counties, raising more than $4 million each year to cover the cost of care for the uninsured and underinsured. HOM offers innovative programs to enhance the quality of care for people at the end of life, education programs for physicians and healthcare professionals, caregiver education materials, cultural diversity programs for end-of-life care, and research and education programs at the Maggie Allesee Center for Quality of Life. For more information, call Hospice of Michigan’s CARE Center 24/7 at 888.247.5701 or go to www.hom.org.

About Blue Care Network

Blue Care Network of Michigan features award-winning disease management programs and the largest HMO network of physicians and hospitals in the state, with more than 4,800 primary care physicians, 14,000 specialists and most of the state's leading hospitals. Blue Care Network, a nonprofit corporation, is the affiliated HMO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. For further information, visit bcbsm.com.

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