- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The broadcast press box at Nationals Park is several hundred feet above the playing field, but what happened up there shortly after noon Monday stunned everyone on the field who was preparing for the Washington Nationals' home opener against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Harry Kalas had collapsed in the press box. Emergency medical workers were trying to revive him. It was bad.

The Nationals would take batting practice, but the Phillies would not. And when the report reached the ballpark less than an hour later that the legendary Philadelphia sportscaster had died after being taken to George Washington University Medical Center, there were questions about whether the game even would be played. And though they did play the fifth home opener in the District since baseball's return in 2005, the game was overshadowed by the sudden death of Kalas.

”When they took him to the hospital, we were pulling for him,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said after the game. “But then the news came back that he passed away, and it was real quiet in here. The players cared a lot about Harry.”

I don't know how the Phillies managed to do it. They walked around in shock before the game.

“The way I felt when I heard the news, I would have rather we didn't even play,” said Jamie Moyer, the winning pitcher in the Phillies' 9-8 win against the Nationals.

Though Moyer has only been with the Phillies since 2006, the 46-year-old pitcher had a personal perspective perhaps like no other player in the clubhouse. He grew up in suburban Philadelphia listening to Kalas.

“I heard Harry's voice probably for the first time as a 9-year-old kid,” Moyer said. “I grew up listening to Harry and Richie Ashburn. That is what I knew as a kid. I get here in 2006, and it's the same voice. When I was learning the game, watching the game, that was the voice I heard.”

How colleagues like radio broadcaster Scott Franzke managed to go on the air in a matter of hours is a testament to their professionalism.

“He never turned down an autograph request, never turned down a photo with somebody, never turned down being somebody's outgoing voice mail message,” said Franzke, who was grief-stricken before the game. “We love this game. We make a good living at it. But we do it for the fans. The players can come and go, but 'outta here' [Kalas' signature call] lasts forever.”

Yes it does. Players do come and go, but special broadcasters like Kalas become the voice of generations of fans for a team.

Play-by-play has more of a presence in baseball than any other sport. You hear a baseball broadcaster's voice over the course of three or four hours for 162 games a year during the regular season, plus spring training and sometimes postseason play.

I would venture to say that some fans listen more to their baseball broadcaster than they do their spouses over the course of a season. And over 37 seasons, in various broadcasts, Phillies fans listened to Harry Kalas. It become so much of a presence that when you think about games in your mind, you hear the broadcaster's voice.

Dodgers fans hear Vin Scully.

Tigers fans hear Ernie Harwell.

Phillies fans hear Harry Kalas.

That's more than just listening to a sporting event. That's a marriage.

“He was in his own class,” Manuel said. “There was no one like him. He held your interest when he talked, his voice. He could control your attention. It came kind of natural for him.”

Kalas, 73, started with the team when it moved into Veterans Stadium in 1971, coming to Philadelphia from Houston, where he had been part of the Astros' broadcast team from 1965 to 1970. He was first part of the television team, paired with former Phillies player and fan favorite Ashburn. Kalas and Ashburn became the Phillies' beloved broadcast team, working together until Ashburn died in 1997.

Kalas' presence went beyond Philadelphia, though. He had an identifiable voice that was used in various commercials and replaced John Facenda as the voice of NFL Films. He was honored with the Ford C. Frick Award by baseball's Hall of Fame in 2002.

“I used to turn on the NFL Scoreboard on the weekend just to hear him talk,” Manuel said. “It didn't necessarily have anything to do with football. It was just to hear him talk.”

There were concerns about Kalas' health.

“Harry kind of looked sick,” Manuel said. “His complexion, he had lost weight - just the way he looked.”

The Phillies, as the 2008 champions of baseball, were scheduled to go to the White House on Tuesday to meet with President Obama. That visit was canceled. A team, a city and its fans are in mourning, as are many of the players who came and went while Kalas called the action - including Bob Boone, the Nationals' vice president of player personnel, who played for the Phillies from 1972 to 1981.

“He was one of us when we won the World Series in 1980,” Boone said. “There's just a lot of history… to lose him at this age is just shocking. But it's reality, and I'm just saddened.

“The fans, the city, certainly the baseball world is going to miss Harry.”

Just like any family member whose voice is now a memory.

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