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Albom's play "Ernie" makes world premiere Thursday

Ernie Harwell's life and legacy is about to take the stage.

Mitch Albom wrote "Ernie" as a love letter he hopes does justice to the late Detroit Tigers broadcaster.

"I just hope people like it," said the Detroit Free Press columnist, best-selling author, WJR radio host and playwright.

The 90-minute play will make its premiere Thursday night at the City Theatre, a block from the home of the Tigers. Albom said the production he is funding is employing about a dozen people from Michigan.

Will Young, a 71-year-old Milford resident, stars as Harwell in the two-person play with 24-year-old St. Clair Shores native TJ Corbett.

"It's a challenge to do a decent job of representing an icon like Ernie Harwell," Young said before throwing the first pitch recently at Comerica Park. "Mitch has made so many tweaks and everything he does makes the play even more beautiful and the multimedia stuff we've got is fabulous."

While Young is a veteran on stage, Corbett is a rookie professionally.

"This is big leagues for me," Corbett said. "This show is going to mean so much to so many people."

Harwell died May 4, 2010, after a battle with cancer at the age of 92.

The setting for the play is the Comerica Park tunnel in which Harwell walked before addressing his adoring fans on Sept. 16, 2009.

"People who come to see the play will see and hear a part of their life on stage," director Tony Caselli said. "In their heads, they'll be laying around on a summer afternoon listening to Ernie on the radio.

"There will be moments that people will swear we're playing a recording of Ernie because Will has worked really hard on Ernie's cadence and Georgia twang."

Even casual fans can tick off Harwell's catch phrases: "Looooooong gone!" for a home run; "He stood there like the house by the side of the road and watched that one go by" for a batter taking a called third strike; and "Two for the price of one!" for a double play.

Harwell relieved Red Barber with the Brooklyn Dodgers, who acquired him for a catcher in 1948, and later worked for the New York Giants and Baltimore. He came to Detroit in 1960 to call Tigers games and retired in 2002. He received the Ford C. Frick Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981 and was honored by the Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 1989.

Albom said the play was Harwell's idea.

"When he died, I tried to write a play that would serve as a legacy," he said. "I started it as a one-person show, then I realized Ernie had no angst, no inner demons, the kind of stuff you need for a one-person show. Ernie wasn't Hamlet. I made it as a two-person show with a kid who got Ernie to basically broadcast his life with his memories about everything from Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth to the 1968 and 1984 World Series, which people will get to see."

The play, with $20 and $25 tickets, is booked April 28-30 and from Thursdays through Sundays in May and June. Albom hopes it gets extended into July and August.