Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Remembering the Legend: Harry the K

Two days ago, I received the devastating and gut-wrenching news that Philadelphia Phillies' Hall of Fame broadcaster, Harry Kalas had died suddenly, only two hours before the Phillies were to play an afternoon game against the Washington Nationals. I had just settled in to eat my lunch on that seemingly normal day at work, but after viewing that horrific headline, I could barely get anything down my throat. Over the course of the day, the foggy reality slowly set in: the man who had been the soulful voice of baseball in Philadelphia for almost forty years would never again call a single play.

Harry Kalas' enthusiasm, generous demeanor, and of course, booming baritone voice actually created baseball fans over the lengthy course of his career. When my passion for baseball first began in the early '90s, it was Harry who got me into the Phillies. Subsequently, it was Harry who actually enabled me to enjoy watching Phillies games during several abysmal seasons in the mid to late '90s. And it was Harry, whose colorful exuberance paved the journey for Phillies fans everywhere throughout the team's world championship season in 2008. His love for the game, regardless of the team's standings, was evident in the way he called each play. It was pure joy to hear his home run calls of "Swing and a long that baby....outta here!!!" no matter how good or bad the team was doing at the time. It was equally thrilling to hear him yell "Struck 'em out!!" after key strikeouts by Phillies pitchers; especially ones that ended an inning or ended a game. Harry resonated both our joy in the good times and our collective anguish through all the hard defeats.

The loss of Harry Kalas is right on par with the loss of my grandfather. Ironically enough, I'm finding out that many others in the Philadelphia area are feeling the same way. On the day that Harry died, I got a call from my friend Brian, asking me how I was doing. I found it kind of striking and actually somewhat beautiful because he and I ended up consoling each other the way one would during the passing of a family member. The reality of it is that Harry was family, not only to us, but also to millions of others in the Philadelphia area. This was a man I never met personally, but was still someone with whom I felt I had shared a lifetime of memories. On almost a daily basis during each baseball season, Harry had been a welcomed guest in my home or in my car. He knew Phillies fans and we knew him in return. He loved Phillies fans and we loved him equally in return! For many of us who've grown up as baseball fans in Philadelphia, Harry is all we know, and is the person primarily responsible for nurturing our initial sparks of interest into a roaring love for the game.

Since the 2009 baseball season began just two weeks ago, I've admittedly had a little trouble really getting into it since the Phillies are the reigning World Champions. However, over the first several games, hearing Harry's voice and his passion, even in the little details, helped to pull me back in and get me pumped up for this year's title defense. Truly this man had a gift for curing any and all forms of baseball apathy. The day before Harry died -- April 12, 2009 -- I was at my in-laws' house in Allentown and ended up watching the first eight innings of an eventual 7-5 Phillies win. Right before my wife and I left to return home, Chase Utley hit a 2-run home run to tie the game at 5. It was the last live home run I heard Harry call while he was still with us. Given that fact, I'll never forget it, nor will I forget how thrilled Harry was at the way the Phils had battled back from a 5-1 deficit to tie it up late in the game.

Going forward, the Phillies will have tremendous shoes to fill and a grieving city will have to face the unthinkable task of watching and listening to Phillies games without the steady guidance of the one affectionately known as Harry the K. There has never been and never will be another like him.

2008 was for you, Harry. Thank you for making us all champions.


1 comment:

  1. Susan FinkelsteinApril 15, 2009

    Beautifully written, Alan. Two days later, I'm still tearful and grieving, and I'm not ashamed to say it is a grief that is only matched by my mother's death almost three years ago, April 18, 2006. Touchingly, it was my mother who taught me about baseball during those long summer months when both my sisters were too old to hang around and play with their kid sister, and friends were at summer camp. My mother and I, in our basement in Northeast Philly, watching the Phillies set to the always-wonderful Harry-and-Whitey soundtrack, my learning about the game and starting a lifelong romance with it, my mother ironing a family of five's clothes. Or at our above-ground backyard pool, with the battery-operated transistor radio, listening to baseball again, Harry's voice becoming one of my life's favorite sounds at just about 12 years old. So Harry and my mother are somehow all tied up together in my heart, and the loss of him has reopened the wounds of the loss of my mother. I know she would have wept at the news of his death, too.