Washington D.C. tends to bring disappointment to the citizens of this great nation on a regular basis. On April 13th, 2009, 11 years ago today, DC was the epicenter for one of the greatest loses in Phillies history. We aren’t talking about the final score, but that day we as fans lost of voice of summer, Harry Kalas.
The joy that the beginning of the 2009 season brought to the city of Philadelphia was something not felt in this area for the better part of 3 decades. The defending World Series Champs entered the 2009 campaign mostly intact from a season prior and looked primed for another run to the top of the mountain. It was a great day for a ball game on that morning as the Phillies entered Nationals Park for the Nat’s home opener. It was expected to be the beginning of a series in which not much was to be excited about. The Phillies were defending champs, and the Nationals were one of the worst teams in the game. Inside that press box though around 12:30pm, the storyline for not only the day, but the season, took an unexpected twist. Harry Kalas collapsed inside the press box and passed away at the age of 73 from a heart attack. The broadcast that day revealing the news of what happened still lingers clearly inside the minds of Phillies fans to this day. As do the memories in which that legendary voice brought to the city through the years.
Hired by the Phillies in 1971 to replace the great Bill Campbell, Kalas was behind the mic for the opening of Veterans stadium that season. Teamed with Phillie great Richie “Whitey” Ashburn, they called games for the Phillies for the next 27 years. Their connection and friendship was apparent to anyone listening to the broadcasts of the games they called. A dynamic duo who got to call some fantastic moments together in Phillies history. Mike Schmidt’s 500th homer and the 1980 World Series just time name a few. Whitey would pass away in September of 1997, leaving Kalas to continue calling the moments.
I could go on with all of the great calls Harry gave us throughout the years. But I’m going to go a different route. In 2009 I was fortunate enough to be at Opening Day for the ring ceremony and pennant raising. A sold out crowd was shoulder to shoulder on the concourse in the outfield as everyone wanted a good view of our boys taking the field from the stands in right center. I had lost my friends in the crowd and decided to walk up the steps behind the board in right field to get over to where they were standing. As I approached the stairs leading back down I walked passed a group of a few men talking. Just as I was about to take my first step down I heard something so familiar to me. A voice, one in which seemed as familiar to me as family. I turned left and caught a glimpse of the man himself, chatting with another Philadelphia known entity in Scott Palmer. But my attention wasn’t on Palmer, or the security guards standing around them, it was on Harry. I stopped for a few moment last to think if I had it in me to go and introduce myself to a living legend of the booth. A few deep breaths, and I slowly made my way to them. As I reached the group, one of the security guards turned to me just about ready to pounce. Harry, talking time Palmer at the moment stopped speaking, looked at me and smiled. I reached my hand to him, his years showing in both his face and the grip of his handshake. I stuttered as I spouted out the words “Mr Kalas, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” He nodded and smiled and simply said “The pleasure is all mine, nice to meet you.” My heart raced as I turned to the stairs and quickly made my way to my friends as fast as possible, knowing they wouldn’t believe me. Of course, they didn’t.
So sure, you can think back to all the calls. “Chase Utley, you are the man.” “Watch that baby, outta here” “The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008, world champions of baseball.” We all know them, we can all hear that voice. Harry made memories for us that will last a lifetime. I was fortunate to be able to attend the parade the previous October. I was lucky enough to make it to the ballpark on opening day 2009, but never in my life did I think I’d have the great honor and privilege to shake the hand of Harry Kalas. Not only mine, but our, voice of summer.