Fans mourn Kalas in Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA -- They began lining up outside Citizens Bank Park long before sunrise, carrying their heartfelt signs and waiting for a chance to say goodbye to the voice of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Thousands of fans, former and current players, friends and family filed into the ballpark on Saturday to bid farewell to legendary broadcaster Harry Kalas.
Many mourners wept as they passed by Kalas' casket, located behind home plate. They paid their final respects and celebrated Kalas' life during an emotional, 90-minute on-field tribute.
"My father loved this city, he loved the Philadelphia Phillies, but most of all, he loved you, the fans," said Kane Kalas, the youngest of Kalas' three sons.
The Hall of Fame announcer known for his signature "Outta here!" home run call, died Monday in Washington. He collapsed in the broadcast booth before a game against the Nationals. He was 73.
Dozens of red roses sat atop the closed white casket and two portraits of Kalas stood on either side. Some fans touched the casket or patted it with their Phillies hat.
Hundreds of fans began waiting outside the ballpark as early as 4 a.m. ET to make sure they get in. Many people wearing Phillies' gear entered through the third-base gate and were greeted by team president Dave Montgomery and chairman Bill Giles.
"When I think of my childhood, the Phillies were always there and so was Harry's voice," said Dan Mannato of South Philadelphia. "When I think of the Phillies, I think of Harry."
Citizens Bank Park was transformed into a shrine for Kalas, who joined the Phillies in 1971. A billboard with Kalas' initials around a microphone was placed on the wall in left-center field. Kalas' signature is displayed on the field behind first base and third base.
The television booth was named the Harry Kalas Broadcast Booth. A plaque with Kalas' picture was hung on the wall and it read, "That ball's outta here!"
Outside, fans placed flowers, pictures and other memorials honoring Kalas at Mike Schmidt's statue.
"There will never ever be another like him. Harry was the best," said Joe Scafidi of Northeast Philadelphia.
Former players traveled from across the country for the ceremony. Schmidt, Darren Daulton, Garry Maddox, Mitch Williams and John Kruk were among those in attendance. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, 76ers general manager Ed Stefanski, Saint Joseph's basketball coach Phil Martelli and Temple basketball coach Fran Dunphy also attended.
Led by manager Charlie Manuel, the Phillies players dressed in their white uniforms with red pinstripes were the last group to walk past the casket. Fans gave them a standing ovation and chanted, "Harry! Harry!"
Schmidt, Rendell, Montgomery, Nutter and Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer were among several speakers. Richard Ashburn, son of former Phillies player and broadcaster Richie Ashburn, read a poem written by his wife. His father and Kalas were best friends.
"Harry was always there," Rendell said.
Moyer, who grew up in nearby Souderton, recalled his first career start with the Chicago Cubs against the Phillies in 1986.
"The first thing I thought of is that Harry Kalas would say my name on the radio," Moyer said.
Montgomery spoke about Kalas' special bond with the fans. It so strong that he wrote a poem for them and read it during his induction speech at the Hall of Fame in 2002. He was never too busy to sign an autograph, take a picture or record a message on a fan's cell phone.
"Harry always put the fans first," Montgomery said. "He connected with the fans like no other. They loved him, and he loved them in return."
Schmidt said Kalas would sit in the back of the plane on the team's charter flights and hold court. Before games, he would walk through a clubhouse and fire up the team, if players needed it.
"Heck, he even made me laugh before a game," said Schmidt, the Hall of Fame third baseman who was known for his stoic approach.
Kalas was familiar to millions of sports fans outside Philadelphia for his voiceover work with NFL Films.
One fan carried a sign that read: "What radio frequency does Heaven have?" Another said: "Harry the K, you hit a long drive right into our hearts!"
As the ceremony came to a close, former and current players and team employees lined up in front of the Phillies dugout. Led by Giles, who brought Kalas here from the Houston Astros, they passed the casket down the line until Manuel, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and a few others placed it in the hearse.
Fittingly, the tribute ended with a family friend singing the first verse to Frank Sinatra's "High Hopes!" and a video of Kalas singing the second verse.
The Phillies play the San Diego Padres on Saturday night.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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