Today we celebrate what would have been the 84th birthday of Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas.
For me personally, there is no way to accurately describe what Harry Kalas meant to me as a Philadelphia Phillies fan. I can only hope to do justice to him with some words on this day, some 11 years after we lost him.
Like many people, I have a Harry Kalas story. And while it’s probably not any better than yours, if you have one, it’s still one of my all-time favorite experiences.
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Without giving you every little detail, it boils down to the fact that when I was 16 years old, my friends and I were enjoying a fun summer day at Dorney Park when we spotted a man on a bench who we jokingly said looked like Harry Kalas. As we got closer to him, it appeared that our eyes may not have deceived us, so I approached.
The cigar smell was unmistakable, and I knew right then that we had our man. We had a great, albeit short conversation with our hero, his rich baritone ringing in our ears in a way that I’ll personally never forget.
That’s basically it. My friends and I fawned over him. Didn’t get an autograph. Didn’t get a picture. This was 2001. What were cell phones? It was what it was, just some teenagers meeting Harry Kalas on a bench while he waited for his son to finish riding a roller coaster. But it just reinforces the greatness of Harry Kalas. Everyone already felt like they knew him, and a 60-second random encounter made you feel like he was your best friend.
Also, in case you’re wondering, this was during the MLB all-star break, so Harry had a rare summer day off. Thankfully, Chris Wheeler was nowhere to be found.
The following year I went to Cooperstown to see Harry get his just due as he received the Ford C. Frick Award and was enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. There was a great turnout by Phillies Nation that day, there to support someone who was a big reason why we all loved the game so much.
When Harry passed suddenly in 2009, it felt like a death in the family for the Phillies faithful. And it was the end of an era that united three generations of baseball fans in the Delaware Valley. Heck, even if you only knew Harry from his work for NFL Films or the Puppy Bowl, you could tell that you were experiencing greatness when you heard that voice.
A few years later, I visited Harry’s grave at beautiful Laurel Hill Cemetery on Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia, high atop a hill with a picturesque view of the Schuylkill below. You can sit in one of the blue Veterans Stadiums seats flanking Harry’s microphone monument as you pay tribute to him in whatever way you see fit. A fitting memorial for a man who deserved it. As his marker says, “Loving husband, loving father, friend to all”.
The gift shop inside the office at Laurel Hill (yes, a cemetery gift shop) is full of Harry Kalas memorabilia. At least it used to be, as this was a few years ago. But either way, I highly advise making a trip to go and see Harry sometime. I enjoy going to gravesites of famous folks, but Harry is in a class by himself. Don’t judge me.
So, today, give a little nod to your Harry Kalas slammer. Or your Harry Kalas statuette. Or maybe your awesome “Harry and Whitey” bobblehead, which was perhaps the greatest stadium giveaway in Philly sports history. And think of what Harry Kalas meant to you as a Phillies fan. If that doesn’t make you smile today, nothing will. We’ll never see (or hear) another like him. Happy birthday Harry.