They began to stand, section by section, row by row, unsure whether to clap and cheer or simply watch and listen. And then Ernie Harwell walked out of the tunnel and onto the bright diamond, a bounce still in his step, and as the ovation grew, the answer was clear.
Yes, it was a time to cheer and cherish, because this was not a sad twist at the end of a good story. This was about the connection between life and death, between people of all ages, between a familiar voice and a vast, appreciative audience.
Harwell, 91, is better at greetings than farewells, so he didn't fully say goodbye Wednesday night, even as he battles an incurable cancer. In the middle of the third inning, the beloved former Tigers broadcaster took the microphone and thanked the Tigers and the fans, and if there was a somber undertone, he cut through it quickly.