Countdown to the 2012 NHL Winter Classic: 1 Day

Over the last few weeks, I’ve told you about Citizens Bank Park and some Phillies traditions. Well, the last installment of this season’s Winter Classic Countdown is about The Voice of the Phillies for 39 seasons; one of the greatest sports voices of our time, Harry Kalas.

Harry Kalas was born on March 26, 1936 in Naperville, Illinois. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 1959. He called his first baseball game on April 12, 1965; the first Houston Astros game at the Astrodome. But the rise of Harry the K began just as the Phillies moved into their new home, Veterans Stadium, in 1971. Kalas was hired to be the successor to Bill Campbell, the Phillies play-by-play announcer from 1963-1970. It wasn’t an easy transition for Phillies fans,  but his easy-going style, his mellow, baritone, leathery voice, and his love of the game of baseball made him a Philadelphia institution. Not only was Kalas good at calling baseball games, he was just as good calling football games on radio. He lent his vocal skills as a voice-over narrator for NFL Films. He became the primary voice-over narrator in 1984, after the death of “The Voice of God”, another Philadelphia institution, John Facenda. In his 39 seasons as the Voice of the Phillies, he called six no-hitters (Rick Wise, 1971; Burt Hooton, 1972; Bob Forsch, 1978; Terry Mullholland, 1990; Tommy Greene, 1991; Kevin Millwood, 2003), six National League Championship Series (1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1993, 2008), and three World Series (1980, 1993, 2008).

As you might have heard, Kalas was best known for his home run call of “This ball is OUTTA HERE!” It was coined after a reaction from Phillies shortstop Larry Bowa who saw Greg “The Bull” Luzinski crush a ball to the upper deck of Veterans Stadium during batting practice. But there were a lot of other memorable calls, like what happened on April 18, 1987.

Swing and a long drive, there it is: number 500! The 500th career home run for Michael Jack Schmidt!

And then, there was the night of October 29, 2008.

One strike away; nothing-and-two, the count to Hinske. Fans on the their feet; rally towels are being waved. Brad Lidge stretches. The 0-2 pitch — Swing and a miss! Struck him out! The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of Baseball! Brad Lidge does it again, and stays perfect for the 2008 season! 48-for-48 in save opportunities, and let the city celebrate! Don’t let the 48-hour wait diminish the euphoria of this moment and the celebration. And it has been 28 years since the Phillies have enjoyed a World Championship; 25 years in this city that a team that has enjoyed a World Championship, and the fans are ready to celebrate! What a night!

Kalas would call the first few games of the 2009 season, but tragedy struck on April 13, 2009. Prior to the game between the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Kalas collapsed inside the press box and was immediately rushed to George Washington University Hospital where he was pronounced dead less than an hour later. He was 73 years old. Four days later, the Phillies had their first home game since Kalas’ passing. His three sons, Todd (who works for SUN Sports as a studio host for Tampa Bay Rays games), Brad, and Kane, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. After that, Kane Kalas, who is an accomplished tenor, sang the National Anthem. It was announced that the remainder of the 2009 season would be in memory of him, with HK patches on the uniforms, renaming the Phillies Television Booth after him. and one of the outfield advertisements covered with a HK memorial logo. The next day, The next day, Kalas became the fourth person to be given the honor of having their body lie in repose inside a major-league ballpark — after Babe Ruth (Yankee Stadium), Miller Huggins (Yankee Stadium), and Jack Buck (Busch Memorial Stadium) — when his casket was displayed behind home plate and fans were encouraged to pay their respects at Citizens Bank Park. His casket was passed along by friends, broadcast partners, and every player on the Phillies roster, before it was placed in a hearse which carried his body of Citizens Bank Park for one final time. He was later interred at historic Laurel Hill Cemetery on a bluff high above the Schuylkill River overlooking the City of Philadelphia.

In August 2009, two pairs of seats from Veterans Stadium were installed at his gravesite, one pair on each side, facing each other at a 45° angle. A few months later, the Phillies made it back to the postseason. During every hame that season, the Phillies players, led by centerfielder Shane Victorino, hung his signature baby-blue blazer and white loafers in the Phillies dugout. It proved to be a god luck charm as the Phillies won their third-straight NL East title and eventually return to the World Series, only to lose to the New York Yankees in 6 games. The next summer, a custom-made granite headstone was installed   at his gravesite. It resembles a vintage microphone with the letters “HK” in the middle and a likeness of Kalas’ autograph (which includes the “HOF 2002” that Kalas added to his autographs after being named the recipient of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award) at the microphone’s base, and that sits on top of a raised home plate-shaped base. Engraved in the base are the following words: HARRY KALAS 1936-2009 LOVING HUSBAND LOVING FATHER FRIEND TO ALL. Just prior to the postseason, the gravesite was resurfaced with sod that originally came from the grounds of Citizens Bank Park. On August 16, 2011, a statue of Kalas was unveiled at Citizens Bank Park, located near Harry the K’s Bar and Grille in Ashburn Alley.

To close this out, If the Flyers win the Winter Classic, not only will you hear The Boils’ “Orange and the Black” but you may hear Harry Kalas’ rendition of the classic 1959 show tune “High Hopes” written by Sammy Cahn and made famous by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself; The Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra. It was first used back in 1993, when the blue-collar, Average Joe Phillies won the NL East for the first time in 13 years. During the celebration in the clubhouse, Harry sang “High Hopes”, which was a song about making the impossible seem possible. In the previous season, the Phillies finished dead last in the NL East. In 1993, they went wire-to wire, clinching their first division title since 1980. In the NLCS, they dethroned the defending National League Champion Atlanta Braves in 6 games only to run against a buzzsaw known as the Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series. Since Kalas’ untimely passing, every time the Phillies win a game at Citizens Bank Park, every Phillies fans walk out of the stadium serenaded by this song in the same fashion the Yankees do when Yankees fans are serenaded out of Yankee Stadium to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”

When you are down, lift your head off the ground

There’s a lot to be learned, so look around

Once there was a silly old ant

Thought he’d move a rubber tree plant

Everyone knows an ant can’t move a rubber tree plant

But he had high hopes

He had high hopes

He had high apple pie in the sky hopes

So when you start to feelin’ low ‘stead of lettin’ go

Just remember that ant

Oops, there goes another rubber tree

Oops, there goes another rubber tree

Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant!

And that concludes my countdown to the 2012 NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park.

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