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FANS SAY GOODBYE


FANS SAY GOODBYE
The field at Citizens Bank Park, with Harry Kalas' loopy signature painted on the grass at the corners, looked like a master's watercolor Saturday. And that was fitting. Kalas was an artist, after all, though he used words, not paint, to capture the happenings on the emerald diamond.

In that medium -- the human voice channeled through radio or television -- no one was better at evoking the sense of joy, peace and timelessness that takes hold on a ball field during a game, under the lights or under the sun.

Saturday, as it happened, offered torrents of sunlight and a warm breeze. The weather was so flawless that the act of mourning seemed impossible, but mourn they did, the thousands of fans who made the pilgrimage to the park to file past Kalas' gleaming white casket behind home plate and say goodbye.

This man, who died Monday after collapsing in the broadcast booth at Nationals Park in Washington, had guided them through 38 summers of Phillies Baseball. Some years, what the Phillies perpetrated on field did not deserve to be called

Baseball, but even in those wretched times, Kalas' seasoned voice and gentle guidance through the vagaries of the game made it all worthwhile.

"A true friend stays with you when things are the bleakest. Harry Kalas was that true friend," said family friend Joe O'Loughlin, one of a long roster of speakers who toasted Kalas' memory at home plate.

"He could even make me laugh before a game," said the famously intense and prickly Mike Schmidt, a Hall of Famer whose 500th home run in 1987 inspired one of Kalas' most memorably exuberant calls: "Swing and a long drive, there it is, number 500! The career 500th home run for Michael Jack Schmidt!" Kalas used Schmidt's middle name on a whim, and it stuck.

The 90-minute memorial, featuring Kalas' friends and family and a slate of dignitaries -- Gov. Ed Rendell, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter -- was emotional, unfolding under jumbo television images of Kalas across the decades.

But the deepest emotion ran as a current among fans who wandered the concourse looking a little lost, wondering how a Phillies game will ever seem the same from now on.

Surely it won't sound the same, not without Kalas turning "strike" into a two-syllable word and making the introduction of certain players seem events unto themselves: "Mi-ck-ee Mor-uhn-dee-nee?"

The Cubs lost Harry Caray; the Yankees lost Phil Rizzuto; the Cardinals lost Jack Buck, and those teams and their fans have carried on. So will the Phillies , who gave Kalas the gift of a lifetime last fall by notching their second World Series title.

But it will ache for a long time. In this day and age, with players seldom sticking with one team for long, announcers provide continuity for the generations.

"It's just going to be hard not hearing him," said Fred Pschunder, 46, of Voorhees, N.J. "There's going to be a big void because of the excitement he brought to the broadcasts. "Outta here' is going to be ingrained in my head until the day I die," he added of Kalas' signature home-run call.

"He's all I've ever known for the Phillies ," said Dan O'Callahan, 49, of Marlton, N.J., who came to the stadium with his son Sean, 19. A tear rolled down the elder O'Callahan's cheek as he recalled the respectful silence among the mourners who doffed their caps as they filed past the casket, which was topped with roses and flanked by two big photos of Kalas. His son said the atmosphere was "surreal," a sentiment echoed minutes later by 52-year-old Charles Travis of West Chester.

"If you listened to Harry on the radio you could envision the events that were going on. He kept you involved in it," said Travis, who brought his 17-year-old daughter, Lauren, to pay respects. "I hope these other [announcers] follow suit. I know they will. He's been mentoring these guys."

The gates opened at 7:30 a.m. to admit fans, some of whom -- anticipating far larger crowds -- had been waiting since long before daybreak. Among the first to enter was Michael Aldridge, 45, of Philadelphia, who carried a sign reading "There's no crying in Baseball ? until now. RIP Harry the K."

In a 1992 Phillies game at Veterans Stadium, Aldridge held up a sign asking his then-girlfriend to become his wife. He said Kalas went into the stands to meet him.

"Harry came out of the booth, bought me a beer and a bag of peanuts and told me, "Good luck,"' Aldridge said. "He definitely touched my life."

The memorial ended with a series of lump-in-throat moments: Kalas' casket being wheeled to a hearse between rows of current and former Phillies' players, and a video montage of the announcer's career accompanied by a recording of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," the song Kalas had once requested be played at his funeral.

After 6,000 games and tens of thousands of innings, Harry the K left the ballpark for the last time.

daniel.sheehan@mcall.com

610-820-6598


Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 21, 2009

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