Ken "Hawk" Harrelson has earned his share of baseball titles over the years, but for him, the greatest compliment is calling him "a homer."
"I love it, because I am," he says.
What many people don't know, is the homer is really a Hoosier. Since 2007, the Chicago White Sox play-by-play announcer and his wife of 38 years, Aris, have called Granger, Indiana, just northeast of South Bend, home.
During the season, Harrelson, 69, drives himself to and from U.S. Cellular Field for each home game and says the commute, "doesn't bother me one bit."
For him, it's all a matter of family. At one end of the commute, he has the wife, kids, grandkids and in-laws. At the other end, he has the guys he embraces like brothers and sons. "I wouldn't be here in Granger and drive 200 miles a day without love," he says. "I love it here, and I love it there."
'No hustle bustle'
Sitting in his overstuffed chair with his stocking feet up on an ottoman, Harrelson looks toward the backyard and grins.
"It's so calming and relaxing here, no hustle bustle," he says.
For those who only know his public persona, it's hard to imagine the Hawk living the quiet life. In his seven decades in baseball (he first signed with the Kansas City Athletics in 1959) there's been nothing quiet about the Hawk.
In 1967, Harrelson—an outfielder and first baseman—was a member of "The Impossible Dream" Red Sox that dropped the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. The following season, his finest, Harrelson won the American League Comeback Player of the Year award and graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in a baby blue suit complete with Nehru jacket and love beads.
When he retired from baseball in 1971, Harrelson pursued a career in professional golf, competing in the 1972 British Open. The flashy playboy was living in Florida and dating a flight attendant when he got together with a Greek friend from his hometown of Savannah, Georgia, who suggested he ask his sister, Aris Harritos, on a date.
"When I met her, I was retired from baseball, going into golf, failing and not a nice person," he explains. "I was angry, going out at night, getting into fights. The reality was if I didn't change my ways, I was going to lose her. So, I did."
They've been married for 38 years and have two children, Krista and Casey. "She taught me over the years without telling me what it takes to make a successful marriage," Harrelson says. "It's something both people have to do. You can't have a great marriage without loyalty. I can go to a golf tournament in Las Vegas with 50 hookers in the room and she wouldn't have anything to worry about."
Standing in the kitchen of their Granger home, Aris tells the story of Hawk's July 23, 2009, call of Mark Buehrle's perfect game in which he implored viewers to, "Call your sons! Call your daughters! Call your friends! Call your neighbors! Mark Buehrle has a perfect game going into the ninth!"
Aris was making homemade ouzo for a family wedding at the time. She had the game on in the other room and missed it. "He forgot to say 'Call your wife!'" she laughs.
Her husband jokingly winces, puts his arm around her and kisses her on the cheek.
Family, faith and fairways
The family's modest, unassuming home is located near the upscale Toscana Park and Heritage Square shopping centers. To those in this community of 28,000 just outside of South Bend, Harrelson is just another neighbor. To the grandkids, he is "Pappous," Greek for "Grandpa." Pictures drawn by the little ones are stuck to the fridge.
"I fill up every day here at Martin's," he says, pointing toward the supermarket down the road. "I got to know the lady there. She doesn't know what I do, I just said I work in Chicago. She said, 'You sure work hard' and I just laughed."
The only thing flashy about Harrelson now are the two rings he wears daily, his 1967 World Series ring and his 2005 White Sox World Series ring. They are two of only four pieces of memorabilia he has kept over the years, the other two being a collage made by his late friend Mickey Mantle and his 1968 American League Player of the Year award. Those are kept at the Harrelson's off-season home in Orlando, Florida.
The Harrelsons were drawn to the Granger area by their desire to be close to family. His wife's sister, Catherine Leonakis, settled there with her husband, George, a Gary native who served as basketball coach for South Bend Central and Elkhart Central high schools and Indiana University South Bend. George passed away in September.
"We always said our perfect scenario would be up here in the South Bend area, because George and Catherine lived in Elkhart," he says.
The Harrelsons lived in Granger in the 1970s, too, so Aris could be close to her sister when she was pregnant with their son, who was born in South Bend. "When I was doing games for the Red Sox, we lived here for two years," he says. "I commuted back and forth to Boston. We lived in the Georgetown Apartments for two years."
Harrelson says he "loves to shop" in Granger and marvels at all of the local eateries. "Within a mile, you've got almost everything," he says. "The thing that amazes me is every restaurant is always full. For a little community, this is the most eatin'-out place I've ever seen."
The Harrelsons are members of St. Andrew's Greek Orthodox Church in South Bend and Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Maitland, Florida, where Aris serves on the church council. "I converted to Greek Orthodox three years ago," Harrelson says, adding that he grew up Baptist in Savannah. "There is a great Greek community here."
They are also members at Knollwood Country Club, where he hits the links from time to time with some local celebrities, including former Notre Dame head golf coach George Thomas. "We've had many battles on the golf course," he says.
Harrelson recalls playing golf years ago with his then 13-year-old son, Thomas, former Notre Dame head football coach and sports broadcaster Ara Parseghian, and former Notre Dame head football coach Lou Holtz. "In front of George Thomas, I said, 'Casey, today you're going to see some things you've never seen before. On the first hole, Lou hits one into the right woods and it bounces off a tree and onto the fairway."
Parseghian stepped up and did nearly the same thing. "I said, 'Casey, this is Touchdown Jesus right here! And that was just the first hole!"
When it's time to get down to work, Harrelson explains, the long drive home to Granger after a game is never a sacrifice, not even after rain delays or extra innings. "I don't care, as long as we win. You have four announcers who don't care how long we have to stay at that ballpark. If you put the uniform on, you play to win. You can bitch and moan if you lose if you go there to win."
He makes the trip in an Infiniti M45, "a fantastic vehicle with four-wheel drive."
"I love this toll road, too," he says.
Harrelson admits technology makes the commute enjoyable. He passes the time listening to books on his Kindle (averaging about three books a week), music (Neil Diamond and Huey Lewis) and West Coast games on satellite radio.
"I have a friend who is a huge fan in Seattle, and he knows if we lose I'll be pissed, so he'll call and we'll talk and before I know it, I'm pulling into the driveway," he says.
Harrelson is usually home in Granger by 1:30 a.m. after a night game. The commute is so long that he crosses a time zone. "I lose an hour, but I pick it up the next day," he laughs.
'The perfect way of dying'
Harrelson has spent 36 years in the broadcast booth, 25 with the White Sox.
"I love the game more now than I ever have, because I have been fortunate to see how the game has evolved," he says. "The players are better now than they have ever been. These guys today can do things guys in my time couldn't do," he says, specifically fouling off pitches. "Luke Appling was the master of that," he says. "Paulie [Konerko] this year found a knack for fouling off pitches. That's why he had such a great year."
The bullpen has changed the game, too. "When I played, you were only going as far as the starting pitcher could take you," he says. "Now, it's as far as the bullpen, because pitchers don't complete games . . . These guys today, the agents don't want pitchers wearing out their shelf life. In my time zone, starting pitchers didn't want anyone even saying the words bull pen."
Harrelson says in spite of the changes in the game, it's the traditions White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has brought to the team—including hiring former players Ozzie Guillen, Harold Baines and Greg Walker to manage and coach—that have created loyalty in the organization and with the fans. "Stability, tradition and pride," he says. "You can't have loyalty without those three . . . Of all the organizations I have ever known, we are probably as close to family as any organization I've ever seen. I think the Dodgers in the '50s and '60s were that organization. Today, it's the White Sox."
While the Hawk says he loves the quiet life in Granger, he has no plans to step away from the mic and retire there anytime soon. "I really want to die in the booth," he says. "I really do."
To illustrate how he wants to go, he gets up from his seat in front of the television in the living room, puts on his signature broadcast voice and performs what he refers to as "the perfect way of dying."
"Here's Konerko at the plate, here comes the pitch, he looks up, you can put it on the boooaarrrrd . . ." then pretends to slump over, giggling.
"On my gravestone, it will say, 'He gone,' no doubt about it."