In memoriam: Harry Kalas

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Harry Kalas was voted in baseball's Hall of Fame in 2002. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

APRIL 13, 2009 started out like any other early-season baseball day. Overcast. Damp. Chilly. Harry Kalas boarded the team bus, just like he had thousands of times before. When he got to Nationals Park he went to the clubhouse, just like he had thousands of times before. He went from there to the broadcast booth, the one in Washington with a clear view of the U.S. Capitol, to begin preparing for that day's game. Just like he had thousands of times before.

Then suddenly, shockingly, tragically everything changed.

Kalas collapsed.

He was rushed to George Washington University Hospital. He was pronounced dead at about 1:20 p.m.

The game must go on, and the grief-stricken Phillies went out and beat the winless Nationals that afternoon. A scheduled trip to the White House the following day, to be honored as the defending world champions, was postponed.

Kalas had the rare ability to make everyone think of him as a friend, from the best player on the team to the fan who had never met him and knew him only from hearing his distinctive voice on the radio.

He started with the Hawaii Islanders and the Houston Astros. He worked for NFL Films and called Notre Dame football and basketball for a time. He covered football games for Westwood One radio.

It was in Philadelphia that he became a civic institution, though. He was hired when the team moved into Veterans Stadium in 1971. He spanned that era, including the franchise's first world championship in 1980 and a string of dismal losing seasons, but never lost his appreciation for the game.

"High Hopes" was both his favorite song and his irrepressibly optimistic worldview.

There were years, many years, when Harry Kalas was more the face of the ballclub than any of the players. And he was eternally gracious, always having a moment for any fan who wanted to chat, get an autograph, have him record a voice-mail message.

Phillies players paid him the ultimate compliment by welcoming him to sit with them in their safe haven at the back of the plane on team flights.

He was voted into baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 2002.

He finally got an opportunity to call the final out of the Phillies winning a world championship on Oct. 27, 2008.

He had a good, full life. And then, abruptly, at age 73, he was gone.

Thousands came to mourn at a public memorial service. The players passed his casket from home plate to the waiting hearse.

Their uniforms had black "HK" patches positioned over their hearts for the rest of the season. Kalas' powder-blue sport coat was carefully hung in the dugout for every game.

Every time a player homered at home, a recording of Kalas' famous "That ball's outta here!" played over the public-address system.

After each win, the large videoboard in left played a clip of him singing his signature song.

And when the Phillies clinched their third straight division title, the players went to the sign on the leftfield fence that commemorated his life to spray it with champagne and offer a cigar to his memory.

This one was for Harry. *