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April 13, 2009
Saying goodbye to a grand voice of summer

Back before there was cable and satellite TV, and before the internet and the MLB Network, there was radio.

And to follow Major League Baseball games, particularly out-of-market games, radio became your best friend, especially at night when the powerful nighttime signals boomed on 50-thousand watt stations and magical voices from baseball stadiums came crackling through all summer long.

The most distinctive voice, of course, was that of Harry Kalas. The smooth baritone voice of the Phillies was a distant sound of summer for anyone within a thousand miles of Philadelphia who would tune him in during the summer months. Like your favorite baseball glove, Harry was the ultimate ‘comfortable listen.’ His voice was a comfy fit for fans everywhere and once you turned on a game, you couldn’t leave. You were hooked. His voice meant summer. And baseball. And the Phillies.

In fact, to many fans, Harry WAS the Phillies. He was beloved in the Delaware Valley and was as much as an icon in Philadelphia as any player they’ve had.

Harry Kalas died this afternoon in Washington, DC, in the radio booth prior to the Phils’ game with the Nationals. The voice of the Phillies since 1971, Kalas was part of his city's identity, and a Hall of Famer in every way imaginable both on and off the air.

Some fans knew Harry’s voice for his work on NFL Films Productions and even a series of Chunky Soup commercials. At Virginia Tech, we hired Harry to serve as the narrator of the Virginia Tech 2001 football highlight DVD.

As many of you know, one of my close friends is Todd Kalas, one of Harry’s sons, who I met back in college. Like his father, Todd has a tremendous voice and is an amazingly friendly and caring guy who is also a terrific broadcaster. Todd filled-in for Mike Burnop and me for three Tech basketball games two years ago in Orlando when we had a football conflict. If you listened, you know that like his dad, Todd is a sensational broadcaster.

So in their own way, both Harry and Todd have contributed to Virginia Tech athletics and I’m proud of that.

Todd and Harry Kalas share the booth during the 2008 World Series between Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. Todd, currently an announcer for the Tampa Bay Rays, also handled play-by-play duties for three Virginia Tech basketball games during the 2007-08 season. Harry, the long time voice of the Phillies, narrated Tech's 2001 football highlight DVD. (Photo Courtesy MLB.com)

But today is a sad day because Harry Kalas was not only the Voice of the Phils, and one of the true sounds of summer, but also a voice of our childhood. The days of Larry Bowa and Michael Jack Schmidt and Greg Luzisnki are long gone, but until this week we had Harry and that, to be honest, was just as good. When the Phils won the World Series last year, it was a great day for Phillies fans, but even more so for Harry, who had a sensational series-clinching call.

Back in October of 1986, a bunch of us college kids road-tripped to Philadelphia for the weekend and stayed at the Kalas house. It was World Series time and the Red Sox were playing the Mets in game six.

Of course, we watched that memorable game with Harry in the basement of his home.

Now, let me tell you: Watching a baseball game with Harry Kalas, in his house, on his couch, well, that’s surreal.

It would be like going to a concert with Billy Joel. Or going to catch a movie with Jack Nicholson. Doing something very common, but doing it with royalty.

A very unique experience, especially when Harry would ask “Would you like something else to drink?” in that deep voice of his. (Inside note here to Philadelphians: He actually did offer me a “Tastykake” at which point I laughed, and of course accepted.)

Mets and Red Sox fans remember Mookie Wilson’s ground ball going through Bill Bucker’s legs allowing the Mets to win. I remember Harry exclaiming and yelling in astonishment as the ball went into right field. We both watched Ray Knight score the winning run knowing we had just seen one of the most amazing plays in World Series history.

I’ll never forget watching that game with Harry in Radnor that night in 1986, but not just because of the games’ ending.

He loved baseball so much and talked about how it’s the greatest game to see, and the absolute best game to broadcast. He talked about his preparation and how he worked hard every day in going over the stats and notes for each team and how we close he was with his broadcast colleagues both on and off the air. He offered insight into both teams. And he talked about how he loved the Phillies. Oh, did he love the Phils!

And as his listeners knew, that passion for the Phillies and for Philadelphia came through on the air during his broadcasts.

I’m absolutely heartsick for my buddy who lost his dad today. And selfishly, feeling down that we had to say goodbye to one of our greatest voices.

I can’t imagine a summer without him.

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