On April 8th, 2009, the city of Philadelphia came together to celebrate the last official celebration of our 2008 World Series Championship with the WS Ring Ceremony. It was a beautiful day at the ballpark as the rings were police escorted into the stadium, our heroes received their much deserved bling, and we finally got our first win of the 2009 season. However, if you were there that day, it’s none of those things that will stand out as the highlight of the day. That honor would go to the man who proclaimed us at last “World Champions of Baseball.” Our beloved Harry Kalas took the mound that day to throw out the first pitch. He shook his head that he had thrown the ball a little high, but it mattered to no one as the crowd chanted his name as he left the field with a wave heading back up to the broadcast booth. No one there that day or anyone at home could have known it would fittingly be his last home game.
On April 13th, I can remember vividly where I was the moment I got the text that informed me that Harry collapsed at Nationals Park. So stunned, I needed to pull over and listen for news; any news on WPHT or WIP for more information. I remember having to call my dad, who had passed along to me the love of our Fightins; the long pause after I told him, and the sadness in our voices as we spoke. Later that day, as I heard word of the makeshift memorial at the statue of Michal Jack. I was out with friends, my mind elsewhere. At 11 PM, I make the 40 minute drive from my house to the stadium with red flowers in hand. It was late, but a few other fans were gathered. Some with candles, beer, radios, or baseball caps. We made small talk about Harry, but the most profound story I heard came from a man who told me he used to be homeless. He talked about how he looked forward to the games during his struggles, but what kept him listening was Harry. “He was the only kind voice I heard during that time in my life.”
I tell this story because it not only speaks to what kind of man Harry was, but because his voice connected us all. He was out connection to the Phillies. He may not have been a Philadelphian by birth, but he was one of us. It didn’t matter whether the team was winning or losing, in first place or last; if it was an all-star who hit the home run or the September call up, Harry called the game the same. His big call wasn’t too big for anyone. Never too self-important to turn away fan requests, in fact he embraced them. Our players came and went, but Harry always remained; making the games watchable when it was unbearable to, and exhilarating when the games mattered the most.
Even as I write this, one year removed from his parting, its still hard to believe that we will never hear him proclaim, “OUTTA HERE” again. Whenever anything big happens, I wonder how he would have called it. I wonder how thrilled he would have been to call us back-to-back National League Champions, and second World Series appearance. I wonder how he would have called Halladay’s first start. But mostly, I wonder how awful it would have been had Bill Giles not plucked him away from Houston in 1971. Harry Kalas was our voice for 38 years. For 38 years our baseball team and our lives were enriched because Harry Kalas was a part of them. At 73, he was undoubtedly taken from us much too soon. But it is hard not to smile and think of all the great calls and times Harry left us to cherish the rest of our lifetimes. And “when you are down, lift your head off the ground”, remember that Harry and Whitey are calling the games together again.