The Daily Puppy

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Remembering summers with Harry Kalas

This blog originally appeared in a column in The Mercury on May 17.

In March 1977, my family took a two-week trip to Florida. Among our stops was Clearwater, Fla., where we took a day to watch the Phillies in a spring training game.

Sitting in the back row of the grandstand behind home plate at Jack Russell Stadium, we heard familiar voices behind us as the game time approached. We stood up from our seats, turned around and there chatting in the press box behind us were Phillies broadcasters and future Hall of Famers Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn.

I don’t remember what was said, other than we told them how much we enjoyed listening to them.

***

It’s been more than a month since Harry Kalas passed away after collapsing in the broadcast booth at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., about to do what he loved: broadcast a Phillies game. That was a difficult week for me — and for many other Phillies fans I’ve spoken with — as I recalled the 38 summers I spent listening to Harry’s voice as he chronicled the ups — and mostly downs — of my favorite baseball team.

I watched and listened to as many tributes to Harry as I could. I shed more than a few tears as I watched his memorial service on a sun-splattered Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. It was as if I had lost a longtime friend.

***

My love affair with the Phillies began in 1971, the same year Kalas joined the Phillies after a stint as a broadcaster with the Houston Astros. In that year, he called the first of six no-hitters when Phils pitcher Rick Wise blanked the Cincinnati Reds, 6-0, on June 23. Harry’s call of the final out — a line drive by Pete Rose caught by Phillies third baseman John Vukovich — was one of several highlights shown during many tributes to him.

Wise also hit two home runs that day, becoming the only pitcher to hit two homers while pitching a no-hitter. That day also happened to be my 8th birthday. It was one of the best presents an 8-year-old boy could receive.

***

Poetically, the afternoon of Harry’s passing, cable service was being worked on in my area, so I couldn’t watch the first few innings of the game. Instead, I listened on the radio. I couldn’t remember the last time I tuned in to a game on the radio while I was at home. You could hear the emotion in the voices of broadcasters Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen as they talked about Harry and what he meant to them — and the fans.

I listened to the game in my bedroom, where the reception was clear. As I lay on my bed, I thought about all the nights as a kid I fell asleep listening to Phillies games on the West Coast with Harry Kalas at the microphone.

***

We had a Sunday game season-ticket plan for 30 years, all but 28 of them at Veterans Stadium. From our seats along the first-base line, we could watch Kalas in the broadcast booth. He would interact with fans in the lower deck behind home plate between innings, and sometimes would toss bags of peanuts down to them.

When the game ended, we went as fast as we could to the car for two reasons: one, to beat the traffic; and two, if a key play happened during the innings Harry was on the radio, we wanted to hear how he called it.

Harry was honored a few times with collectible item giveaways to all fans. One was a bobblehead featuring Kalas and Ashburn to celebrate Kalas’ induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The other was a “Talking Harry” doll, which played a few of Harry’s catch phrases.

The batteries in mine wore out long ago.

***

Without Harry describing the action, the broadcasts just aren’t the same.
Twice since Kalas’ death, left fielder Raul Ibanez has won games with late-inning home runs. I couldn’t tell you how broadcaster Tom McCarthy described the action. In my mind, I keep hearing Harry’s signature “That ball’s outta here!”

However, I’ll continue to hear Harry’s call of the Phillies World Series victory last year over and over again. I have it as the ring tone on my cell phone.

Mike Spohn is The Mercury’s news editor and a lifelong Phillies fan. E-mail him at mspohn@pottsmerc.com

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