In memoriam

kalasI’m making a point of it today to not touch upon two of the hottest topics currently being discussed in the blogosphere.  In regards to Amazonfail, it would appear nobody is listening to anyone at this point, so even if I had anything new to contribute other than “perhaps we should take a few moments to wait and see what happens next,” it will just get lost in the din.  In regards to the controversial date rape scene in Seth Rogen’s latest Observe and Report, I’m withholding judgment until I see the movie for myself, since I am my own best judge of what’s offensive to me or not.

Instead, I’m going to talk about Harry Kalas, who passed away earlier today at age 71.  Harry Kalas was a baseball announcer, the “Voice of the Phillies,” and had been in that position since 1971.  He was the announcer for the closest thing I had to a hometown team, growing up in southern New Jersey, for my entire life, now he’s gone and I find myself more saddened and sentimental over it than I would have expected, being that I’m not a huge sports fan.  If you grew up in or around the Philadelphia area in the 70s and 80s, you surely have at least one memory of a male relative, usually either a father or grandfather, listening to a Phillies game while working on some mundane household task, like changing the oil in his car or doing yardwork or whatever.  For me it was my grandfather.  My paternal grandfather, who passed away when I was five, would listen to Harry Kalas on an old transistor radio, an ever-present cigarette cocked at one side of his mouth, while sorting through his stamp collection or working on a crossword puzzle.  I’d have no idea what was going on, only that when the man on the radio yelled “Outta here!” the crowd cheered and my grandfather would mutter something that sounded like approval.

My father, who passed away this past January, once told me that some of the nicest times during the tumultuous relationship he had with his father were spent listening to baseball games on idle summer afternoons.  Like a lot of men his age in the early 70s my father resembled Tommy Chong, while my grandfather looked like Archie Bunker, and it’s always been amusing to me to picture the two of them together, sitting next to each other on the rickety, peeling back steps of my grandparents’ rowhome in West Atlantic City, not saying much to much each other but sharing in the happiness of Steve Carlton striking out one rivaling player after another.  My father wasn’t even anywhere near a sports nut, I don’t know if he even cared who was playing, I think he just enjoyed having the opportunity to commiserate with the father he rarely could see eye to eye with over the most simple of things.

Some of the best times of my early twenties was spent going with my friends to Phillies games, buying tickets for the Seventh Heaven cheap seats (back when such a thing as “cheap seats” existed), packing all manner of snacks and all but camping out in the bleachers like we owned the place.  Baseball isn’t a hard game to follow, nor does it drag on interminably like football, so even if your team is getting ass-hammered on the field you still have a good time.  In spite of inevitable drunken, obnoxious “fans” and those who take games they’re not even playing a little too seriously, there’s something undeniably wholesome about going to, or even just watching a baseball game, especially on one of those perfect spring days when the air is as warm and sweet as a kiss, and the joy you feel over being alive and well to experience such a thing proves almost overwhelming.

I live in New York now, where working class folks have been slowly but surely priced out of going to Yankees and Mets games.  Now that they each have new stadiums opening this year, it can cost upwards of $200 for a family of four to attend a game, even without premium seats.  Major league baseball is no longer “the people’s game,” at least we have minor league and farm teams not charging an arm and a leg to see them play.  So upon his passing I appreciate and honor Harry Kalas’s contribution to the game when it was still for everyone, for making my dad and my grandfather get along for a little while, and for being the voice for some of those moments that make me glad to be a part of this world.  Bless you, Harry, and good rest to you.


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